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What’s The Score: Rinaldo

A magical battle of wits and wills ensues between Rinaldo’s Crusaders and the Saracen army, as the fate not just of two lovers but two nations hangs in the balance.

Rinaldo…you mean like the footballer?

Not quite (though we’ll come back to football in a bit). Rinaldo is an opera by Handel – the very first opera he wrote for London when he arrived as an up-and-coming 26-year-old, fresh from Germany.

26 is pretty young – does that mean it’s a bit of an experiment, a work in progress?

Yes and no. Handel might have been new to England and English tastes, but he was already a rising star in Europe with some big hits under his belt. He was so keen to impress his new audience that he pilfered some of the most popular numbers from his earlier works and re-used them in Rinaldo, so it’s essentially an 18th-century jukebox musical.

You say “popular numbers” – anything I might have heard of?

What about ‘Lascia ch’io pianga’? Even if you don’t recognise the title, you’ll definitely know the tune of this gorgeous aria – one of the most ravishingly beautiful Handel ever composed, a proper tear-jerker. Just try listening to it without welling up.

Anett Fritsch performs ‘Lascia ch’io pianga’ from Handel’s Rinaldo
Sounds vaguely familiar…

President Bartlett’s daughter Ellie walks down the aisle to it in The West Wing, Farinelli makes all the ladies faint with it in Farinelli, and it also turns up in Lars Von Trier’s films Antichrist and Nymphomaniac, and a Harrods advert. Oh, and Barbra Streisand even recorded it (Google it), and she definitely knew a good tune when she heard one.

OK, so there are some good tunes, but what’s it all about?

I’m glad you asked. Rinaldo is a Crusader knight. His fiancée Almirena has been kidnapped by the sorceress Armida and the scheming Saracen King Argante, and he must gather his troops together and risk death in battle to rescue her.

Sorceresses and knights and battles – all sounds a bit Game of Thrones. Any dragons?

No dragons, I’m afraid. But as well as a sorceress there’s a wizard, a couple of seductive mermaids and plenty of magical spirits….

That’ll do I suppose. But how on earth do you get whole armies on stage? All those swords and spurs must be a nightmare for health and safety….

Director Robert Carsen has got round that problem by setting his production in a school.

A school? You mean like Hogwarts?

More like St Trinian’s. It’s school, but definitely not as you remember it: a little bit punk – all fishnets, Dr. Martens and teenage rebellion. Rinaldo is a geeky boy who’s bored during history. He imagines a whole adventure with himself as the warrior-hero, all his mates as his army and his teachers (of course) as the enemy. The wizard is a mad science teacher whose experiments tend to turn explosive.

Sounds like fun.

It is. The whole show is very playful, very tongue-in-cheek. Carsen takes Handel’s epic and reinvents it as a witty, naughty romp of a school story. Instead of a climactic final battle, Rinaldo and his friends meet their rivals on the sports field for a ferocious football match. Football chants have rarely sounded so good.

So I wasn’t that far off with Ronaldo after all?

You really weren’t….

By Alexandra Coghlan

Image credits: Rinaldo, Tour 2011, photo by Alastair Muir

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