Antonio Giovannini Rinaldo, Gesche Geier Armida, Marie Friederike Schöder Almirena, Florian Götz Argante, Yosemeh Adjei Goffredo, Owen Willetts Eustazio, Cornelius Uhle Mago cristiano, Compagnia Marionettistica Carlo Colla & Figli, Lautten Compagney Berlin, Wolfgang Katschner
DVD of the puppet action (137’+10′)
Audio recording (2 CDs)
Arthaus Musik 102207
A charming and, as far as I am aware, unique recording of Handel’s London debut opera with marionettes, and – better still – a real attempt at Baroque staging. As the excellent sleeve notes explain, marionette performances of opera have a long and distinguished history- and with a production as good as this, one can understand their attraction. Visually, it is a delight- the costumes are suitably sumptuous, and the sets absolutely terrific. Armida arrives, as advertised, in her dragon-drawn chariot, and Almirena gets abducted by a deliciously evil-looking spirit. I particularly liked the seascape at the beginning of Act 2, with the seductive sirens swimming to and fro, and the equally charming garden with Almirena and assorted Birds in Act 1. Scene changes are instantaneous, as they should be, so that Handel’s dramatic key shifts- eg where Rinaldo surprises Armida in Act 2- have their proper effect. Armida’s transformations into Almirena, later in the same act, are beautifully realised- especially when she catches Argante out as he woos the wrong lady! The later scenes of Act 3, with the march-pasts of the rival Christian and Moorish armies, Rinaldo’s bravura ‘Or La Tromba’ and the subsequent ‘battaglia’ are splendidly dramatic, and Handel’s four trumpets and drums make their presence well felt.
Musically, it is a strong performance. Antonio Giovannini is a heroic Rinaldo – his Act 2 ‘Abbruccio, Avvampo” is especially thrillingly done, and ‘Cara Sposa’ in Act 1, after Almirena’s abduction, is hauntingly lovely. Gesche Geier, as Armida, is fire-spittingly good in her opening ‘Furie Terribili’, and wrings the heart in her Act 2 ‘Ah, Crudel’, with its plangent oboe and bassoon obbligati. Marie Friederike Schoder’s virtuous Almirena is a fine contrast- her Act 2 ‘Lascia, ch’io pianga’ is mesmerising. Florian Gotz as Argante blazes in in Act 1 with ‘Sibillar gli angui d’Aletto’, and is a fine foil for Armida in their Act 2 duet. Yosemeh Adjei (Goffredo) and Owen Willetts (Eustazio) prove musically muscular Christians, and Cornelius Uhle is a sonorous Mago. Schroder and Geier also double as the Sirens in Act 2- I don’t think I’ve ever heard their delicious ‘Il vostro maggio’ better done. Wolfgang Katschner’s tempi feel exactly right, and the band follow his energetic conducting with absolute confidence.
There are a few caveats. Most musically serious is the frequent truncation of da capo arias – ‘a’ section, ‘b’ section, then merely the ritornello of the ‘a’ section. The orchestration is tinkered with from time to time, e. g., recorders are used in the gigue of the overture, which rather spoils their surprise appearance in ‘Augeletti’ later on; there is also liberal addition of tambourine and castanets. The filming occasionally feels disjointed – there are frequent shot-shifts between the marionette onstage, the “real” singer backstage and the orchestra or conductor. A couple of times the stage business (eg during the Battle in Act 3) is filmed as if from the puppeteers bridge, which spoils the ‘full frontal’ Baroque effect.
Overall, however, this is a fine achievement, both musically and visually. It would be fascinating to see further operas done so – imagine ‘Orlando’ or ‘Alcina’ with similar staging!
This promotional video includes some short extracts from the production.