Major Operas | Rinaldo by George Frideric Handel | Late Baroque
A small number of Handel’s dramatic works are known as the ‘magic operas’, including Rinaldo, Teseo (1712), Amadigi (1715), Orlando (1733) and Alcina. These operas feature protagonists who use sorcery to manipulate love, usually for evil ends.
Most common among these operas is the prima-donna sorceress figure, who attempts to compel a castrato hero away from his true love and military duty. The wicked woman’s plans to entice the hero are always doomed to failure: in these operas, the hero’s eventual disillusionment and disenchantment are considered in literal and favourable terms.
Rinaldo was Handel’s first Italian opera composed for London, and is notable for its flamboyant music and exotically devised libretto. It is not generally thought to be among Handel’s best dramas, but seems to have impressed the London public by combining technically demanding arias with lavish spectacle.
The glories of Handel’s score include the heroic aria ‘Or la tromba’ (featuring four trumpets) and the lament ‘Cara sposa’, both composed for the castrato Nicolini (1673–1732). However, the dominant character is the villainous enchantress Armida, whose conclusion to Act II, ‘Vo far guerra’, afforded Handel an opportunity to dazzle his audiences with stunningly intricate harpsichord solos.
Premiered: 1711, London
Libretto by Aaron Hill and Giacomo Rossi, after Torquato Tasso
During the first crusade, in the Christian camp, Goffredo delivers words of encouragement. To the young knight Rinaldo he promises his daughter Almirena’s hand in marriage, if the army is successful in capturing Jerusalem. The Saracen king Argante appears and demands a three-day truce, to which Goffredo agrees. Argante then consults his lover, the sorceress Armida, who reveals that without Rinaldo the Christians will never succeed. Rinaldo and Almirena are in a garden exchanging lovers’ vows when Armida, using her magic powers, abducts Almirena. Rinaldo runs to Goffredo and his brother Eustazio for advice; they suggest paying a visit to a Christian sorcerer. Rinaldo calls on the elements to assist him in retrieving his love.
On their way to visit the sorcerer, Goffredo, Eustazio and Rinaldo arrive at the seashore, where sirens, sent by Armida, are singing to them. Despite the efforts of the others, Rinaldo is enchanted by the sirens; he goes to join them and sails off aboard a magic boat. Rinaldo is taken to Armida’s palace, where Almirena is also being held prisoner. Argante has fallen in love with Almirena and is forcing his unwanted attentions on her. Likewise, Armida falls for Rinaldo; after he rejects her she uses her magic to make herself look like Almirena, and tries again to seduce him. Rinaldo sees through her disguise, but Argante fails to and continues his wooing of ‘Almirena’. Armida, discovering Argante’s treachery, swears she will have vengeance.
Goffredo and Eustazio reach the home of the sorcerer, who lives at the base of the mountain on which Armida’s palace is situated. They try to climb the mountain but are forced back by evil spirits; the...
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