Opera Daily 🎶 — Handel’s Rinaldo

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This week is all about Handel (1685-1759).

If you missed the first post in this series where we covered Beverly Sills singing Julius Caesar, it’s here.

As I mentioned in Wednesday’s post, it is impossible to talk about Baroque Opera and not say, Handel. Handel’s music follows the Italian opera style in Europe from the 1710s to about 1770, known as “opera seria”. If you want to learn about the state of opera during the Baroque period (also where opera was headed), you are in the right place. Handel was the king of the da capo aria (this loosely translates from Italian to “from the top”). One of the characteristics of a da capo aria is a piece in three sections. The first section is usually repeated with variations at the end, with the outside and middle sections contrasting, usually by pace (tempo). In the repeated section, you will observe embellishments by the singer and/or the orchestra. This vocal form is something that Handel used very often as a composer.

Today we’re listening to Cecilia Bartoli sing “Lascia ch'io pianga”, one of Almirena’s arias from the Italian opera Rinaldo by Handel. Written in the da capo style, the original aria has the structure of A-B-A (with a theme and then I think eight(?!) variations!)

We are listening to Christopher Hogwood’s 1999 Decca recording with the countertenor David Daniels as Rinaldo and Bartoli as Almirena. I like this recording for many reasons, and if you are interested in listening to the full opera, you can find it here.

🎧 Listen here (5 minute listen):

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I love Bartoli when she sings Handel. I find myself feeling incredibly peaceful when I listen to her singing this piece. Stunningly beautiful and simple. She touches my soul every time.

Loosely based on the 16th century poem Gerusalemme liberata (“Jerusalem Delivered”), Rinaldo has a plot that can sometimes be difficult to follow. This may be due to the fact that Handel composed the music within fourteen days (I assumed it helped that he used many melodies from earlier operas and oratorios). Rinaldo takes place in the late 11th century Jerusalem set at the time of the First Crusade and is a story of love, war and redemption.

In “Lascia ch’io pianga”, Almirena, who has been kidnapped (and loves Rinaldo), sings to her captor, Argante, for freedom and mercy.

Let me weep
My cruel fate,
And that I should have freedom.

The duel infringes within these twisted places,
in my sufferings,
I pray for mercy.

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Want more?

  • The aria’s melody is first found in Act III of Handel’s 1705 opera Almira. Handel then used the music for the aria “Lascia la spina, cogli la rosa” in his 1707 oratorio Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno. Four years after that, in 1711, Handel used the music again, this time for Rinaldo.

  • This is a beautiful interpretation of the aria by the well-known cellist Hauser.

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🗣 Did we miss something important about this piece or Handel that you think the community should know? Please tell us in the comments below!

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Thank you again for listening and for coming along on this journey so far,

Michele

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