According to young musicologist Giovanni Andrea Sechi, who reconstructed the score of this version of Rinaldo, when the Neapolitan castrato Nicolino Grimaldi went back to Naples from London, where he had sung in the title role in Handels’ masterpiece, he secretly took with him the manuscript of the opera.

Teresa Iervolino (Rinaldo)
© Paolo Conserva

In Naples, the work was adapted by Leonardo Leo in accordance with the different local traditions of the time. Leo, one of the most prominent composers of the Neapolitan School,  along with other local authors intervened in the score realising what is called a pasticcio, an opera partly written ex novo, which also contained pieces already known. Compared to the London work, this version is longer and more varied, totalling 39 scenes instead of 32.

In London the dominant theme was the religious conflict, while in Naples it turned into a drama of intrigue, with the insertion of comic elements, like the scenes with two servants, Nesso and Lesbina. They comment briefly on what happens to the main "serious” characters. Unfortunately, as Sechi says, the music of the arias and duets of the two comedians have not been discovered, but the libretto has been found complete. Thought to be lost until a few years ago, this "Neapolitan" Rinaldo, rescued by Sechi, premiered in the courtyard of the Ducal Palace in Martina Franca, exactly 300 years after its debut in 1718, directed by Giorgio Sangati.

Rinaldo at Martina Franca
© Fabrizio Sansoni

The staging raised doubts, as Sangati drew a parallel between 18th-century castrati, at that time international stars, and the pop and rock icons of 1980s. Thus, Rinaldo was dressed like Freddie Mercury, Armida was Cher, Almirena was Madonna, Goffredo, Eustazio and Argante were respectively Elton John, David Bowie and the leader of The Kiss. The conflict between Christians and the Saracens was represented as a fight between "pop-rock" and "dark-metal". 

The director’s initial idea was not too far-fetched as, in principle, it could generate interesting and picturesque short circuits on stage... and it did, here and there. But, as a whole it proved somewhat forced and unspontaneous; the farcical aspects prevailed in the singers’ stage movements, contrasting with the basically static nature of Baroque opera arias, thought to allow the performers to show their virtuosity, without being encumbered by excessive dramaturgical movements.

Rinaldo was played en travesti by mezzo Teresa Iervolino. She rendered the multifaceted character with a hyperactive stage presence (one would expect her to start singing “We are the champions”) and a beautiful and agile contralto. She was given an ovation at the end of "Lascia ch'io resti", (with which Leo replaced the celebrated “Lascia ch’io pianga”, and is sung not by Almirena but by Rinaldo with different lines). Obviously, this was the most anticipated piece of the whole performance.

Dara Savinova (Eustazio) and Francisco Fernández-Rueda (Goffredo)
© Paolo Conserva

Armida was performed by soprano Carmela Remigio, who was quite perfect into the shoes of the sorceress (a soprano in this version); she gave an ominous, magnificent, seductive interpretation of the character. Her voice has a beautiful, deep yet burnished quality, and her phrasing was pure and immaculate.

Minor roles were sung by Loriana Castellano, a seductively restrained Almirena with a  beautiful vocal colour, Francesca Ascioti (a fine acted Argante), Francisco Fernández-Rueda (Goffredo), Dara Savinova (Eustazio); the “Neapolitan” comic roles of Nesso and Lesbina were acted by Simone Tangolo and Valentina Cardinali.  

Fabio Luisi conducted the Swiss orchestra La Scintilla with elegance and meticulousness as usual, with a refined gift for details, only somewhat less effervescently than a Baroque score would require.