By Geraldine Freedman/For The Leader-Herald
Glimmerglass Opera’s production of Handel’s “Rinaldo,” as seen on Monday, is unlike any Baroque opera audiences might hope to see.
Written in 1711 with a libretto by Giacomo Rossi, the story includes knights of the Crusades, a witch, a sorcerer, a hero named Rinaldo and a beautiful damsel, all involved in a love story. Already exciting stuff, but director Louisa Proske turns it on its ear by bringing Rinaldo and his beloved Almirena into the present day as children in a hospital, and all those warriors and magic are what Rinaldo imagines. The result is a fabulous success.
All of this was bolstered by glorious singing from the cast, led by Grammy-winning countertenor Anthony Ross Costanzo as Rinaldo, soprano Jasmine Habersham as Almirena and the four wonderful singers from the company’s Young Artists Program: Kyle Sanchez Tingzon as the King Gotfredo; Korin Thomas-Smith as Argante, a warrior; Nicholas Kelleher as the Sorcerer; and Keely Futterer as the witch.
Matt Saunders designed the ingenious set, which was spare but had a magic portal in the center through which all of Rinaldo’s imaginary characters would tumble. When they did, the lighting, which Amith Chandrashaker designed, would shift from bright white to a seductive bluish/grey. And the scenery behind that portal equally shifted to an amorphous darkness. It was only in the second act that the packed audience realized it was computer generated as it reflected the action: stormy seas, mountains, lightning and even some of the action of the characters. It is an amazing confluence, real with unreal, and speaks to how technology used with imagination can be wonderfully effective.
Along with brisk action there were many vocal high points, many of them as solos in what are called laments. Costanzo, who was singing this role for the first time, was completely invested in his character and sang with his customary focus, intensity and shaped phrases. Habersham was eloquent in the famous opening lament in Act II. Her beautiful tones melted in her grief. Sanchez Tingzon and Thomas-Smith were strong, forceful and dramatic and excelled at the melismatic singing of long phrases strung over many, many notes. And Futterer brought the house down with her fierce witch and fiery singing. She completely took over the stage on her entrances.
Montana Blanco’s costumes were in bronze/ivory shades, and the wonderfully large and swirling black cape worn by Futterer was like a living thing when her three furies danced about her.
Supporting all this was the chamber-size Baroque orchestra directed by Emily Senturia. Initially, the tempo was so animated and quick that some of the musicians weren’t keeping up. But all soon blended in Handel’s playful and often soulful lines to set the mood. Senturia gave the singers plenty of room to emote.
The packed house responded to every mood and action with loud applause and laughter, and at the end a fervent standing ovation.
“Rinaldo” continues Aug. 6, 12 and 17. For information, visit glimmerglass.org.