Sunday, August 13, 2023


 Reviewed by James Karas

There are times when you see a production of an opera where the imagination of the director has taken such a leap that it leaves you breathless. It does not happen often but it does in Louisa Proske’s production of Handel’s Rinaldo at the Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, New York.

Rinaldo premiered in 1711 and is an opera seria that was sung by castrati. It has a plot about war, love and sorcery around 1099 during the Crusades. Briefly, the hero Rinaldo loves Almirena, the daughter of King Goffredo. The enemy is led by Argante who is told by the sorceress Armida that the only way he can win is is by capturing Rinaldo. She agrees to capture him herself and she abducts Almirena as well.

Moving on, Argante is in love with Armida and sorceress falls in love with her prisoner Rinaldo, The Christians also have a Sorcerer and, you may have guessed it, Rinaldo and Almirena are rescued and they all live happily ever after,

Handel and his librettist Giacomo Rossi call for a magic castle, a mountain, views of Jerusalem and paraphernalia that Cecil B. de Mille would have been hard put to provide.

Proske and Set Designer Montana Blanco  do away with most of that and leave it to our imagination. The opera opens in a modern hospital room with two youngsters in separate beds, One of  them is unconscious and the other one is awake and dreaming of the heroic deeds of the knights who fought in the Crusades and specifically of Rinaldo. His imagination takes flight and knights jump in through the window of his hospital room. They outfit him as a knight and we see Goffredo outfitted as a leader of the crusades. 

The cast of the 2023 Glimmerglass Festival production of Rinaldo.
 Photo Credit: Evan Zimmerman/The Glimmerglass Festival

The two youngsters become Rinaldo and Almirena. The hospital staff and visitors become the rest of the characters of the opera. The large window at the back is used as a screen for the projection of photographs and videos including a cartoon representation of the climb of Goffredo and his followers up the steep mountain to fight the sorceress, Armida. They are blown away. The Sorcerer on Rinaldo’s side arms them with injection needles  and they go back and blow the Armida side off.

The imaginative transformation of two youngsters in a hospital into the main characters of the opera and the ability to carry the whole idea to the end struck me as brilliant. The opera begins and ends in the hospital room where the hospital staff and visitors who became the medieval characters revert to their modern selves.

The staging and directing are accompanied by some extraordinary singing. The production boasts three countertenors. Even in Handel’s time, the castrati who sang the major male roles were rotated by undamaged singers but for this production Glimmerglass found three outstanding countertenors. Rinaldo is sung by Anthony Roth Costanzo who has a delicate physique and a voice of surpassing beauty and versatility that manages all the trills with utter ease.  The same high praise belongs to countertenor Kyle Sanchez Tingzon  who sings Goffredo as well as countertenor Nicholas Kelliher who sings the smaller role of Sorcerer.

Peter Murphy, Kyle Sanchez Tingzon, Madison Hertel, and Anthony 
Roth Costanzo. Photo Credit: Evan Zimmerman/The Glimmerglass Festiva

Jasmine Habersham sings Almirena in a fine performance. But when it comes to female characters, the show is stolen by soprano Keely Futterer as the sorceress Armida. Dressed in black and accompanied by three Furies dressed completely in black, she plays up the role and manages magical appearances and disappearances as Almirena. A robust and vocally accomplished performance.

Bass-baritone Korin Thomas-Smith sings Argante, the leader of the “other side’ who is in love with Armida. Fine, resonant voice and superb performance.

I make no secret of my admiration of Louisa Proske’s imaginative treatment of the opera. But in all fairness, I should mention that there was a production of Rinaldo at Glyndebourne in 2011 that bears some resemblance to Proske’s It was directed by Robert Carsen and it set in an English private school where the students take on the roles of the opera. It is not as well thought through as Proske’s and the singers are more conventional. But that production is more Monty Python’s Spamalot than Handel.


Rinaldo George Frideric Handel is being performed five times between July 28 and August 17, 2023, at the Alice Busch Opera Theater, Cooperstown, New York.

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press

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