Wednesday, 1 May 2019

A window onto 18th century taste: the multi-composer Naples version of Handel's Rinaldo



Handel Leo Rinaldo - Dynamic
Handel & Leo Rinaldo (1718 Naples Version); Carmela Remigio, Francisco Fernandez-Rueda, Loriana Castellano, Teresa Iervolino, Francesca Ascioti, Orchestra La Scintilla, Fabio Luisi; Dynamic  
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 21 April 2019 
Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
The pasticcio version of Handel's Rinaldo as performed in Naples in 1718 sheds new light on 18th century performance practice

We tend to apply our modern sensibility of fidelity to the score to 18th century performance where the idea of a fixed score was wholly unheard of. So modern revivals of Handel's operas rarely explore the composer's myriad versions (each time Handel revived an opera he changed it), sticking close to the premiere version. At the London Handel Festival, Opera Settecento has been admirably exploring the pasticcios Handel created for London, dramatic assemblages which mixed music from other composers with his own recitatives.

But what happened when Handel's operas travelled abroad? In Hamburg his friend Telemann supervised productions which adapted the operas to local tastes, quite radically for our modern sensibilities. And in 1718, the castrato Nicola Grimaldi arrived in his native Naples. He seems to have had Handel's Rinaldo in his luggage, having had great success in the title role in London in 1711. It seems it was decided to mount the opera in Naples with Grimaldi repeating his role. The composer Leonardo Leo and an anonymous librettist adjusted the opera to local taste, which involved not only changing the plot, but adding comic scenes.


Enough information survives for Giovanni Andrea Sechi to reconstruct Handel and Leonardo Leo's Rinaldo as performed in Naples in 1718. On this new set from Dynamic we have the first recording of this version presented by the Festival Valle D'Itria with Fabio Luisi and Orchestra La Scintilla, with Carmela Remigio as Armida, Francisco Fernandez-Rueda as Goffredo, Loriana Castellano as Almirena, Teresa Iervolino as Rinaldo and Francesca Ascioti as Argante.



Handel/Leo: Rinaldo - Festival Valle d'Itria2018 - Teresa Iervolino (Photo Paolo Conserva)
Handel/Leo: Rinaldo - Festival Valle d'Itria2018
Teresa Iervolino as Rinaldo (Photo Paolo Conserva)

Sechi has had to rely on a surviving libretto and a partial selection of arias in a manuscript at Longleat. In the title role, it seems that Grimaldi largely stuck to Handel (though he substituted some arias, including taking over Almirena's 'Lascia io pianga' as 'Lasci io resti'!) but the other cast members mixed Handel with new arias by Leonardo Leo and arie di baule (signature arias which singers used in multiple performances).

Thus we have a score by Handel, Leo, Bononcini, Gasparini, Orlandini, Porta, Sarro and Vivaldi. Does it work? Pretty well, not up to the dramatic level of Handel's best but it certainly seems to work as drama. Perhaps thanks to the intelligent libretto which actually remedies some of the problems in the original Rinaldo, so that Almirena becomes less passive, more resourceful, and Armida is transformed into a seductress (we lose the two scenes where she becomes Almirena), and Act Two ends with a terrific quartet by Leonardo Leo where Rinaldo, Almirena, Armida and Argante argue.

Handel/Leo Rinaldo - Festival Valle d'Itria 2018 Dara Savinonva (Eustazio), Francisco Fernandez-Rueda (Goffredo) Foto Paolo Conserva)
Handel/Leo Rinaldo - Festival Valle d'Itria 2018 Dara Savinonva (Eustazio),
Francisco Fernandez-Rueda (Goffredo) Foto Paolo Conserva)
The other main addition was a prologue and comic scenes. Where comic scenes were customary and were lacking in an opera it was customary to add them between the acts. Again, the music does not seem to survive but for these performances it was decided to do without (probably to keep the running time down, as it stands the set lasts over three hours). So what we have are the comic scenes spoken by actors, it sounds terrific and the audience clearly found them funny. But dropping out from the singing into spoken scenes and back adds a level of distancing, especially when the prologue is also spoken, by a child actor.

For anyone who knows Handel's original, it will be strange the way Handel's Rinaldo comes in and out of focus (and the modern day hit number 'Venti turbini' is entirely lacking), and even some voice types have changed. Almirena is now a contralto and so is Argante. Operas were not cast in the modern sense, so instead of fitting singers to the score, scores were adjusted and arranged to suit the available singers.

The discs were recorded live, complete with audience applause and this had the advantage of giving the piece, especially the recitatives, a lively and engaging vivacity. And it helps, of course, that we are listening to Italians singing in Italian. [see the review of the original performance on Bachtrack]

The results are not perfect, but it would be vastly unfair to compare this to a studio recording of Handel's Rinaldo, particularly as, judging from the photographs, the production seems to have been pretty lively.

But this recording helps us shed a light on 18th century performance practice and shows that the multi-composer operas as concept was not as dramatically inert as we might think.

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759), Leonardo Leo (1694-1744) - Rinaldo (1718 Naples version)


Armida - Carmela Remigo
Goffreo - Francisco Fernandez-Rueda
Almirena - Lorian Castellano
Rinaldo - Teresa Iervolino
Argante - Francesca Scioti
Eustazio - Dara Savinova
Lesbina - Valentina Cardinali
Nesso Simone Tangolo
Argante's Herald - Dielli Hoxha
Spirit - Kim-Lillian strebel
Wiseman - Ana Victoria Pitts
Prologue = Aliana Cantore
Orchestra La Scntilla
Fabio Luisi (conductor)
Recorded at the 44th Festival della Valle d'Itria, Martina Franca
DYNAMIC CDS7831.03 2CDS
Available from Amazon.

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