New Victoria Theatre, Woking – until 29 November 2019
Reviewed by Antonia Hebbert
George Frideric Handel’s setting for his brilliant 1711 opera is the First Crusade, with Christians fighting Muslims to capture Jerusalem. Nowadays the history of the Crusades feels a lot more complicated than it did in the 1700s, so it’s not surprising that director Robert Carsen has made one or two changes.
This Rinaldo takes place in a dream world that merges Handel’s plot with school life. Rinaldo (Jake Arditti) is a bullied pupil, and the whole opera becomes an escapist journey through his head. There are bicycles, hockey sticks, explosions in the chemistry lab, St Trinian’s inspired girls, blazers and helmets. Rinaldo’s beloved Almirena (Anna Devin) is a schoolgirl, and the sorcerer Queen Armida (Jacquelyn Stucker) is a teacher-turned-dominatrix in Rinaldo’s fevered imagination.
After a slowish start, it becomes sheer fun, and sometimes extremely silly, without detracting from the luscious music. The presence of four countertenors in the small cast adds to the otherworldly feeling. Jake Arditti was sometimes hard to hear over the orchestra at first, but became charming and also very entertaining – we were putty in his hands by the end. Jacquelyn Stucker was fabulously strong, Almirena funny as well as sweet, and Tom Scott-Cowell stood out as an appealingly earnest Eustazio. An audience that had felt uncertain to begin with, went home smiling.
The Glyndebourne Tour is an annual series that shows off rising young stars from Glyndebourne’s ranks of singers, players and conductors. You might still be able to get tickets to the Tour’s production of Verdi’s Rigoletto, at the New Victoria Theatre on Saturday 30 November. It’s directed by Christiane Lutz, with Georgian baritone Nikoloz Lagvilava as Rigoletto and South African soprano Vuvu Mpofu as his daughter, Gilda. Not many laughs are likely here, but it’s said to be beautifully performed.