Rinaldo Closes the Season at Lyric

We watched our last opera for the season at the Lyric yesterday – Handel’s Rinaldo. The dude wrote t when he was only 25! Haha I’d glanced at the plot beforehand, and found it vaguely familiar, before realizing that Rossini had also loosely based his opera, Armida, on the same poem.

Loved going to the pre-opera lectures. The different lecturers (usually Lyric staffers), do a phenomenal job every time breaking down the highlights of the performance, as well as feeding us with delightful tidbits about the composer and his librettist. If only they went on for more than a half hour!

In between the lecture and the performance, I was reading the program in my seat when an elderly lady ambled up to me. Oh hello, she said, I’m here to visit my seat, pointing to the seat next to me. Sure enough, her name was neatly etched in a gold plate on the arms of the worn velvet chair. She’d donated a seat in the upper balcony, though she now sat in the first balcony. She said she’d been going to the opera for over 40 years now, but this was the first time she was watching Rinaldo. Next season, she might pare down her subscription to just Elektra, since she now lives 300 miles away in south Indiana. Anyway, I thought it was pretty cool to chat with these life-long fans. I remember going to one of my first operas, Iphiginie, and striking up a conversation with the elderly gentleman beside me and finding out that he flies up from Kentucky for every performance.

The opera itself – new set. Very contemporary, surreal, with the action set mainly against a jumbled stack of giant letters that spell Jerusalem in Italian, and an enormous hanging harpsichord. I’m not sure I’m a big fan of the set, but it definitely is refreshing from the other literal designs.

David Daniels performed brilliantly as usual, but to be honest, while I thought his Cara Sposa was affectingly sung, it seemed to go on forever! In contrast, Julia Kleiter ‘s Lascia ch’io pianga mia cruda sorte aria, sung while she was trussed up in a web of harpsichord strings, was simply sublime. The audience agreed, giving her easily the loudest ovation of the evening. And I loved Iestyn Davies’ countertenor. It sounded more sonorous than Daniels’. This is the second time we’ve watched the duo perform together, the first at the Met’s Rodelinda in January. Then too, we were struck by how bright and loud his voice was.

The comic duo of Luca Pisaroni and South African soprano Elza van den Heever as the evil sorceress and king Argante provided much of the laughter. This is the third time I’ve seen Luca perform this year – first as Leoprello in the Met’s HD telecast of Don Giovanni and then as the sympathetic Caliban in the Met’s new production of The Enchanted Island. It was fun to watch him sing live, especially in an opera where his is the only deep voice. And as the Chicago Classical Review noted, “ van den Heever made an outstanding local debut. The South African singer possesses a gleaming, powerful soprano as well as daunting agility. Van den Heever stole the show with her vampish diva turn in the showpiece aria Vo’ far guerra. Clad in red leather, she vows violent revenge on Rinaldo for rejecting her, playing the giant harpsichord, taking a bottle to swig out of the instrument’s drawer, and turning the aria into a battle for dominance with Jory Vinikour’s (terrific) performance of the virtuosic obbligato harpsichord solos, in an irresistible star turn.”

 

I googled Iestyn Davies to find out more about him after, and it’s fascinating to see that he might have been a bass or baritone in another life, had he not “tried out a falsetto voice, just for the laugh.”

 

Alas, no more Lyric till the fall, and only two more Met broadcasts to go.

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