“Rinaldo” with Marionettes is Most Entertaining
It takes patience in our times to sit through Handel operas, burdened as they are with the traditions of their time. There are the absurd plots, which are merely pegs upon which to hang arias. Then each aria gives expression to a single emotion and is sung through twice (da capa aria, “from the top”) so the singer can show off the second time through. Now and then, a duet or small ensemble might break up the pattern; but the pampered singers wanted to have the stage to themselves.
When opera in Italian became the rage in the London of the early 1700s, Handel jumped in with “Rinaldo” (1711), a tale of the first crusades, which is now available on an ArtHaus Musik set of a DVD and two CDs. Happily it does not update the settings and costumes, as so many other productions do to give the work “relevance” (but, I suspect, to save on expensive costumes).
This is the only DVD of a Handel opera in which I never hit the fast forward button because I was enjoying it so much. You see, it is done with marionettes! Yes, as part of the Ludwigsburg Festival in 2014, “Rinaldo” is performed by the little people of the Compagnia Marionettistica Carlo & Figli, accompanied by the Lautten Compagney Berlin, conducted by Wolfgang Katschner.
[I found out after completing my review that a good two hours had been lopped from the full score. That helped too.]
Although a marionette cannot change its expression, these darlings have expressive faces that perfectly fit their one-dimensional characters. Now and then, the camera shows the human singers in the orchestra pit; but the wooden cast carries the day. The settings and special effects are based on drawings of productions from Handel’s day; and even the battle scene between Crusaders and Saracens is remarkably well done.
There are several artists, who are seen now and then, hidden above the stage controlling the marionettes, and one can only wonder how the strings never get tangled when two lovers embrace. And how I love the bouncy little walk a marionette takes, especially when an army crosses the stage!
I will not take up room with the plot, which can be googled, but I should give credit to the fine vocalists: Antonio Giovanni (Rinaldo, a fearless knight), Marie Friederike Schoeder (Almirena, his beloved), Yosemeh Adjei (Goffredo, her father, who will not give her to Rinaldo until Jerusalem is won), Owen Willetts (Eustazio, his brother), Florian Gotz (Argante, a wicked Saracen), Gesche Geier (Armida, the witch) who helps Argante capture the lovers. (Armida, by the way, shows up in other operas of that period.)
The running time is 137 minutes and the subtitles are in English and German.