Have it the German way, Georg Friedrich Händel, or as the Britishers say, George Frideric (or Frederick) Handel. In both cases you are dealing with the other great German Baroque composer (need I say that Johann Sebastian Bach is the first?). Born the same year as Bach (1685), he outlived the Leipzig Kantor by nine years, dying in 1759. He left behind 42 operas, 25 oratorios, the "Water Music", the "Royal Fireworks Music", the Concerti grossi op.3 and 6, loads of cantatas, several odes, 18 organ concerti, etc.
I visited his house in Halle (Saxony), now a museum. From the city of his birth he went to Hamburg, where he wrote his first operas for the Gänsemarkt Theatre, and then went to Italy and absorbed the Italian style in operas such as "Agrippina", before going to London and having such a success with "Rinaldo" that he decided to make the English capital his home from then on. And this is precisely the opera with which the Colón, after an unconscionable and absurd lapse of 41 years, has returned to Händel, the greatest Baroque opera composer.
Indeed, the Colón offered "Giulio Cesare" with Beverly Sills and Norman Treigle in 1966 and the following year, "Serse", both conducted by Karl Richter. It was a reasonable attempt at authenticity at a time when the Händel boom was just beginning. There had been specialist Händel Festivals in Halle, Karlsruhe and Göttingen, and a few recordings whetted the appetite. But in the following decades more and more of his operas were rescued from oblivion at the theatre and in an increasing number of recordings, much augmented with the CD era. And then came the videos and the DVDs. Unfortunately many productions followed the disastrous modernist trend and only a few tried to give us true Baroque. And in Argentina we had to suffer the abominable "Giulio Cesare" presented at La Plata´s Argentino.
In fact, "Giulio Cesare" was premiered back in 1959 by the Asociación de Conciertos de Cámara, the first Händel in BA. In recent years we have to thank Buenos Aires Lírica for the premieres of staged versions of "Agrippina" and "Rodelinda" and the revival of "Serse". A well-intentioned but poor student group premiered "Alcina" last year. So the first performances in Argentina of "Rinaldo" are very welcome. However, it was a concert version which made the already appalling prices for stalls and loges even less acceptable, for a production may be good or bad but it is costly. On the other hand, considering the quality of production nowadays all over the world, it may have been for the better to just have the music.
The good baroque theatres of Händel´s time had the capacity to show us the fantasies of librettos such as that of "Rinaldo", by Giacomo Rossi based on Aaron Hill and inspired by Torquato Tasso´s "La Gerusalemme liberata". Indeed, the evokation of Alcina´s magic island needs what they called machines: the audience of those years wanted to see transformations , volcanos, dragons, earthquakes, gods descending seated on clouds; and we have contemporary descriptions of how those effects were obtained. A true Baroque staging has to keep that ambience; it´s alright to use current technology as long as you obtain similar results. But alas, such productions are "rara avis", and there´s no satisfactory alternative. So, a concert version; you may think that it is boring, but the beauty and power of the music is such that what you have is an extended splendid concert if the right artists are available; and on this occasion they were.
"Rinaldo" narrates a convoluted story concerning three crusaders, Rinaldo, Goffredo and Eustazio, the sorceress Armida, Argante the Saracen King and Almirena (Goffredo´s daughter), plus incidental appearances of two sirens, a herald and a magician. Love and hate are essential, as in most baroque operas, plus the sorceress´ transformations of other beings, assorted monsters as her retinue,etc. Händel operas are long (generally over three hours); this interpretation had about twenty minutes of cuts but still ran for 170 minutes plus two intervals. It didn´t feel long for me, but I´m a confessed Händel enthusiast. And the music is simply marvelous. Granted, the formal structure is basically recitatives and arias, with only a few duos as a relief and a final "chorus" made up of the soloists, plus some imaginative purely orchestral music. But there´s not a weak piece, and some are fantastic.
The level of singing and playing was very high. Of course there´s no way to do Händel operas as they were originally for there are no "castrati" available...and I can´t suppose that singers will be so historicist that they will allow mutilation just to be truer to the Baroque tradition. So we make do with countertenors or mezzosopranos and contraltos for the castrati roles.
Fagioli is a major star in Europe and with good reason. His singing, if you like his very special timbre, was truly virtuoso and showed an astonishing high register. After too many years, we heard Verónica Cangemi, another Argentinian famous in Europe, in an operatic role; her Almirena was beautiful: expressive in "Lascia ch´io pianga", exquisite in "Augelletti", fluid in the florid passages with a lovely sound. Torres did a vivid Argante, well acted even in a concert and articulated with skill. Daniel Taylor sang a sensitive Goffredo, more contained than Fagioli. Damián Ramírez overdid the gestures and mannerisms in his Eustazio but sang well. Lettish soprano Inessa Galante (debut) exaggerated the shrillness in Armida´s outbursts but otherwise had good vocal moments. Marisú Pavón and Oriana Favaro were fine Sirens, countertenor Lucas Villalba did a correct Magician and Gabriel Centeno (tenor) was a pallid Herald.
I was much impressed by the orchestral work of the "Estable". Of course, the strings used were modern, not gut (they aren´t a specialist Baroque outfit), but the sound remained Baroque due to Haselboeck´s strong dynamic accents, finely chosen tempi and constant support of the singers. Beautiful work from the added theorbos and recorders (fantastic the soloist in sopranino), splendid execution from harpsichordist Norberto Broggini doing what Händel himself did in the world premiere, lovely sound and phrasing from oboist Rubén Albornoz and a very good trumpet quartet.