ALBUM TITLE: Handel
PERFORMER: David Daniels, David Walker, Deborah York; Bavarian State Orchestra/Harry Bicket; dir. David Alden (Prinzregententheater, Munich, 2001)
CATALOGUE NO: 100 388
David Alden’s 2001 production of Handel’s 1711 opera Rinaldo bridges the gap of 290 years between them with mixed blessings. Alden dismissively presents the crusaders Goffredo and Eustazio as ideologically crazed evangelists, out to line their own pockets and conquer the exotic and charismatic infidels (with whom, of course, we are supposed to identify more closely). Such characterisations have no grounding in either Handel’s music or Giacomo Rossi’s fantastical libretto, so it is therefore immensely beneficial that disc 2 contains a well-informed substantial documentary entitled Handel, the Entertainer in which Alden has the opportunity to explain his concept. This also features mostly sensible generalisations about Handel’s operas from Harry Bicket and Nicholas Hytner, supported by judicious clips from the Arthaus DVDs of several ENO productions.
His production is certainly entertaining – Argante’s entrance, ‘Sibillar gli angui d’Aletto’ (‘The Hissing Snakes of Envy’), is hilarious – and – as in his ENO Ariodante – is ultimately only superficially controversial: the plot is told more or less as it is related in Handel’s original text, despite twisting its 18th-century sentiments into often contradictory modern concerns.
The performance itself is exciting. Deborah York is a vulnerable, vocally appealing Almirena and Noëmi Nadelmann is a beguiling Armida. David Daniels dominates the proceedings with a truly magnificent ‘Cara sposa’ which, although it drags self-indulgently towards its conclusion, memorably conveys a mood of stunned heartbreak mingled with anger. His acting and singing in ‘Or la tromba’ ought to bury the debate regarding countertenors in castrato roles once and for all, though Axel Köhler and David Walker do not come up to the same standard. Harry Bicket conducts with a firm grasp on style and a vivid sense of theatre. David Vickers