Rinaldo
  • George Frideric Handel. Opera in three acts. 1711.
  • Libretto by Giacomo Rossi, on a scenario by Aaron Hill.
  • First performance at the King’s Theatre, London, on 24th February 1711.
CHARACTERS

Goffredo, Captain General of the Christian army (male)

alto

Almirena, his daughter, betrothed to Rinaldo

soprano

Rinaldo, a Christian hero (male)

mezzo-soprano

Eustazio, Goffredo’s brother (male)

alto

Argante, Saracen King of Jerusalem, lover of Armida

bass

Armida, a sorceress, Queen of Damascus

soprano

A Christian Magician

bass

A Herald

tenor

A Siren

soprano

Two Mermaids

soprano

With his crusaders, Goffredo, who has promised Rinaldo the hand of his daughter Almirena, is attacking Jerusalem. Argante seeks a truce during which Armida, through her magic, abducts Rinaldo’s beloved Almirena. Rinaldo resolves to find Almirena, now a prisoner in Argante’s palace, but he is intercepted by Armida, now in the guise of Almirena, and rejects her. Armida’s anger is further aroused when Argante, thinking he is addressing Almirena, protests his love for her. Goffredo, in the third act, reaches Armida’s magic mountain, helped by a magic wand, given him by a Christian magician, an aid in warding off the monsters that guard the place. In Armida’s garden Rinaldo is prevented from killing the sorceress, from whose murderous intentions he has just saved Almirena, by the intervention of the Furies. The arrival of Goffredo with the magic wand transforms the garden into a desert. Argante and Armida, now reconciled, review their troops and the Christian forces prepare for battle in which they are victorious, thanks to the heroism of Rinaldo. Argante and Armida are taken prisoner but are pardoned and become Christians.

Rinaldo was not only Handel’s first opera for London but also the first Italian opera specifically written for the English capital. It won a popular success that led to Handel’s return and subsequent involvement with Italian opera in London over the course of a number of years. The genre itself provoked conservative and xenophobic criticism, with Addison and Steele poking fun at the mixture of realism and impossible fantasy, the first element provided by a flock of birds set loose on the stage and thence in the auditorium. There is much fine music in the opera, but most notably the lament of the captive Almirena, Lascia ch’io pianga (Let me weep), the counterpart of Rinaldo’s own lament for her loss, Cara sposa (Dear spouse). The opera is spectacular in its effects, with a final transformation scene as Armida’s garden and palace are changed to a desert with a distant view of Jerusalem, and a battle to bring the forces of good their final expected victory. The first staging in 1711 employed the alto castrato Nicolini as Rinaldo, but allotted the male role of Goffredo to Francesca Vanini-Boschi. Revival in 1731 transformed Goffredo into a tenor and Argante into a contralto, while the alto castrato Senesino sang the title role. Intervening revivals, of which there were a number, allotted male roles either to castrati or to women.