Thursday, August 09, 2018

Rinaldo by Handel at the Palazzo Ducale

Martina Franca, Puglia, Italy. Thursday 02-August-2018

Part of the 44th Festival of the Valle D'Itria which includes a series of operas. I know little about opera so this performance was always going to be a bit of a shot in the dark but seeing as how it's by Handel and he's written a few good tunes it was worth a go.

When we arrived the first shock was how long it was scheduled to last - starting at 9 pm with 3 hours 20 minutes of opera and two short intervals of 15 minutes each. That's nearly four hours so you get your money's worth! The venue is the atmospheric setting of the courtyard of the Palazzo Ducale.

The setting and music may be traditional but the costumes were very twentieth century:
  • Golfedo, the leader of the crusade, is Elton John in an Austin Powers style costume
  • Rinaldo, the nobleman, is Freddie Mercury
  • Eustazio, brother to Goffredo, is David Bowie
  • Argante: Saracen king of Jerusalem, is Gene Simmons from KISS
For the women we were not able to identify any specific artistes.

Photo credit: Fabrizio Sansoni

I did wonder about the absence of Marc Bolan but need not have worried. At the start of Act II the beautiful siren in a boat is wearing glitter makeup and riding a white swan - a clear nod to Marc.

Photo credit: Fabrizio Sansoni

The music involved a lot of what I now know is "melisma" - the singing of a single syllable of text while moving between several different notes in succession. According to my classical music correspondent "melisma has an expressive, word-painting function, so it’s seldom on words like The and And, more likely on Amore/Infedelta etc. Also a wonderful way for a singer to show off a lovely smooth line". Personally I found it's frequent use a little off-putting but then I am a relative opera newbie and I guess it is an acquired taste.

Some of the parts were written in a high voice range for contralto castrati - not available these days! Instead a number of the lead male roles were sung by women which was fine although the 'tache on "Freddie Mercury" looked a tad comedic.

After the applause and curtain calls we finally exited the building at 1:30am having enjoyed a unique musical experience.

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