With Handel’s Rinaldo on the Glyndebourne On Tour menu you may expect trusty mounts wheeling, whips wielding and sabres rattling. And Robert Carsen’s production has all of the above but not quite as the traditionalists might expect.
Set in a Harry Potter-esque school, Carsen overcomes the non-PC religious issues by keeping it light and Bobby-Ewing-in-the-shower-like. There are trysts in the bike shed, handcuffs in the dormitory and a mad professor presiding over bunsen burner blazing lab benches across which the intrepid Crusaders scramble to rescue their muse.
Rinaldo (a somewhat strained countertenor Christophe Dumaux) is a blazer-wearing schoolboy whose passion for plaits and pinafore-clad geeky Almirena (a touching debut – particularly Lascia Ch’io Pianga - by soprano Elizabeth Watts) pits him and his fellow pupils against the might of PVC-clad whip-wielding dominatrix Armida (a fulsome debut by slinky soprano Ana Maria Labin) and her horde of Brittany Spearesque, lacrosse stick-waving Goth Furies who are clearly inmates at St Trinians.
Laurence Cummings keeps a restraining hand on the GOT Orchestra which at times runs away with the soaring Baroque score particularly during colourata.
Designer Gideon Davey’s set ranges from the classroom through the dormitory to the bike shed and, thanks to a magic blackboard, an Almirena-crowded boat and enchanted island. And I rather liked the devise of bikes as steeds complete with punctures and flickering lights.
Carsen’s production is to opera as Marmite is to the tastebuds.
Mixed reactions included ill-mannered boos and standing ovations; those that threatened to ask for a refund and those that found, at last, the weak plot and one-dimensional characters interesting; there were more and more empty seats after each interval but increasing interaction, laughter and applause for both the visual gags and the undeniably fine singing.
Rinaldo is not my favourite given the lack of range – I so prefer the lower register – but Carsen’s staging made this a memorable evening for me.