Young singers spark Boston Opera Collaborative’s vivid “Rinaldo”

March 27, 2015 at 5:11 pm

By Angelo Mao

Sophie Michaux sings the title role in Handel’s “Rinaldo” at Boston Opera Collaborative. Photo: Dan Busler

Boston Opera Collaborative’s production of Handel’s Rinaldo hit all the right notes at Thursday night’s opening performance. Not everything was perfect—nor was the opera presented complete, with this 90-minute version about half that of typical performances. But there was more than enough bravura and poignancy, both in the pit and on the stage, to bring Rinaldo vividly to life.

Handel’s source for Rinaldo, Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered, was once one of the most popular sources for librettists and composers. Vivaldi, Rossini, and even Dvorak all have operas based on Tasso’s poem. The story takes place in a fantasy version of the First Crusade. The Crusader army under Goffredo is besieging Jerusalem. Rinaldo is the Crusaders’ most valiant knight, and he has been promised Goffredo’s daughter Almirena once the city falls. However, the Saracen king Argante has summoned the sorceress Armida to help him defeat the Crusaders. With her powers, she manages to capture both Almirena and Rinaldo. Unexpectedly, though, Argante and Armida fall deeply in love with their captives: him with Almirena, and her with Rinaldo.

Rinaldo‘s premiere in London three hundred years ago was notable for its use of extravagant special effects. Although there were no pyrotechnics at the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology theatre, the staging, costumes, and direction contributed to the evening’s success. Instead of “updating” Handel’s story, the BOC reveled in its absurd and fantastic pageantry. Armida’s costume, for example, featured a sinister webbed hood. Clothing was an underlying theme in the production, with coat racks doubling for a forest, individual coat racks standing in for swords, and sorrow expressed by the removal of garments—crowns, insignia, and armor. The use of masks to represent transformations in the opera was a minor stroke of genius. Another effective bit of stage business was the use of several small, mobile platforms.

Rinaldo, and just about any other opera, lives and dies with the bravura of its singers. Each platform served as a small stage-on-a-stage for the performers, heightening the sense of daring and bravura. It was thrilling to see the BOC’s singers readily mount the steps in preparation for tossing off another Handel roulade.

The BOC’s cast consisted of several up-and-coming singers; in fact, the BOC mission statement is to provide a venue for young singers seeking performance experience. The cast Thursday night sang throughout with flair and confidence.

Sophie Michaux as Rinaldo had probably the cleanest and most stylistically cogent singing of the evening. Hers is not the most ample mezzo, but its fluency was astonishing, particularly in “Venti, turbini, prestate le vostri ali,” delivered at a breakneck speed. Jessica Jacobs brought a warm soprano to Armida. She could chew up the scenery when needed, but was affecting as well when heartbroken over Rinaldo’s rejection.

Luke Scott lent a solid baritone to her counterpart in crime, Argante. He too was adept at portraying the binary aspects of his character, raging at his enemies in “Sibillar gli angui d’aletto” and then summoning Armida with a voice suffused with heartache in “Vieni, o cara, a consolarmi.”

As Goffredo, Garry McLinn provided a suitably penetrating tenor, although his diction seemed to lack the roundness that Italian calls for. Laura DellaFera was a fresh-faced and strong-headed Almirena, and her bright soprano blossomed in its upper register. Sadly, her rendition of the famous aria “Lascia ch’io piange” was one of the weaker moments of the evening. Her voice lacked clarity, and DellaFera seemed unable to decide between presenting the aria as a moment of introspection or as a bravura showstopper.

Of note were Armida’s four furies, whose sensuous quartet “Il vostro maggio de’ bei verdi anni” was an unexpected highlight. Hailey Fuqua’s pure and ample soprano stood out in particular.

The New Vintage Baroque orchestra under Michael Sakir was an invaluable asset to the performance, bringing both a period flavor and vivid playing. Only Sakir’s harpsichord solo depicting Armida’s rage at being betrayed fell flat; in Sakir’s rendition, Armida sounded merely annoyed.

The performance was deeply cut, and most of the casualties were in the third act. The denouement was abrupt: instead of converting to Christianity after their defeat, Argante and Armida are slain on the battlefield. Rinaldo and Almirena then briefly mourn the casualties of war. The pacifist message doesn’t quite work, but perhaps because the characters had all been so riveting, the audience does mourn, with Rinaldo, their demise.

Handel’s Rinaldo will be repeated 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday.  bostonoperacollaborative.org/season1415/rinaldo/

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