Falsetto followers should make a beeline to catch Rinaldo on tour, for Glyndebourne has cast a quartet of countertenors in its second revival this year of Robert Carsen’s whimsical schoolroom show. Four good fellows of the Fach dominated a rain-sodden South Downs opening night, a number that to my ears was probably two too many. At times it came close to alto overkill, like all-you-can-drink milkshake when you fancy a cup of Earl Grey.

Jake Arditti (Rinaldo) and dancers © Bill Cooper
Jake Arditti (Rinaldo) and dancers
© Bill Cooper

Handel’s first London success, a tale of derring-do in the First Crusade, was the 1711 equivalent of a Marvel adventure with its clearly defined squads of good guys and bad guys. Given that the former were Christians and the latter Muslims, it was a deft manoeuvre by Carsen to recast the drama as a hormonal schoolboy’s fantasy. That shift cleared the way for faith-based violence to be supplanted by healthier preoccupations like doe-eyed puppy love and cross-generational sado-masochistic sex. Thanks to the comic gleam in the director’s eye, plus the fact that all the characters including St Trinian’s schoolgirls are played by adults, it is hard to take offence even when the going gets questionable.

Blazers and breastplates! This Rinaldo is already eight years old! It’s played at the BBC Proms (when contralto Sonia Prina carried all before her in the title role) while almost 40 performances have graced Glyndebourne’s festival and tour up to now, so it must be doing something right. This was my first encounter with it in fully-staged guise, and while I found its plentiful chuckles agreeable (the Sirens’ dance was an especial delight) as a production it felt a touch under-heated. Some gentle snores from the stalls suggested I was not alone in thinking so. Who was to blame? Certainly not the orchestra under David Bates, their playing as stalwart as ever on Baroque instruments, nor yet the capable revival of Carsen’s and movement director Philippe Giraudeau’s work by Francesca Gilpin and Colm Seery, both of whom ensured that the drama was tightly played and strongly projected.

Jacquelyn Stucker (Armida) © Bill Cooper
Jacquelyn Stucker (Armida)
© Bill Cooper

The problem is that this tour has not been cast for charisma. Or, to put it more bluntly, that the commanding strength of two singers, Anna Devin as the object of our hero’s infatuation and Jacquelyn Stucker as his latex-clad nemesis, eclipsed too many of their fellow principals. Stucker, the schoolmarm sorceress from hell (or heaven, according to taste), scorched the auditorium with Armida’s second act showstopper “Ah, crudel”, her resolute soprano tinted a rich shade of spinto for the whip-cracking dominatrix. While the American was wickedly funny in what is a gift of a part, Devin, too, made hay in a straw-coloured wig as the sweet (therefore on paper less interesting) heroine Almirena.

Anna Devin (Almirena) © Bill Cooper
Anna Devin (Almirena)
© Bill Cooper

In the role of her father, Goffredo, James Hall has been upgraded from last summer’s cameo as the Christian Magician and was the pick of the countertenors, his voice gleaming and more generous than those of his immediate colleagues in his conciliatory aria "Sorge nel petto". Jake Arditti did heroic work (appropriately enough) in the title role; he nailed his role with a great teenage look and overflowing physical confidence, but his secure falsetto was light on both expressiveness and volume. Down in the bass clef much the same went for bass-baritone Aubrey Allicock as the Saracen King Argante, a vocal performance that was always agreeable but never as explosive as the character demands.

***11