One of my most favorite G F Handel arias of all time. I hope you all enjoy it too. This singer is one of the few online, and in real life, that I have heard, whom doesn’t over-sing this simple, and beautiful song.
Suzie LeBlanc – Lascia ch’io pianga from Rinaldo, by G. F. Handel
Rinaldo (HWV 7) is an opera by George Frideric Handel composed in 1711, and was the first Italian language opera written specifically for the London stage. The libretto was prepared by Giacomo Rossi from a scenario provided by Aaron Hill, and the work was first performed at the Queen’s Theatre in London’s Haymarket on 24 February 1711. The story of love, battle and redemption set at the time of the First Crusade is loosely based on Torquato Tasso’s epic poem Gerusalemme liberata (“Jerusalem Delivered”), and its staging involved many original and vivid effects. It was a great success with the public, despite negative reactions from literary critics hostile to the contemporary trend towards Italian entertainment in English theatres.
Handel went on to dominate opera in England for several decades. Rinaldo was revived in London regularly up to 1717, and a revised version was presented in 1731. The opera was also shown in several European cities; of all Handel’s musical dramas, Rinaldo was the most frequently performed during his lifetime. However, after 1731 the opera was not staged for more than 200 years, until a renewed interest in baroque opera during the 20th century led to the first professional modern production in Handel’s birthplace, Halle, Germany, in 1954. The opera was mounted sporadically over the following thirty years, but after a successful run at New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 1984, performances and recordings of the work have become more frequent worldwide.
The music for Rinaldo was composed very quickly. Much of it is made up of borrowings and adaptations from the operas and other works that Handel had composed during his long stay in Italy in 1706–10. In the years following the premiere, Handel frequently introduced new numbers, discarded others, and transposed parts to different voice ranges. Despite the lack of a standard edition, with its spectacular vocal and orchestral passages Rinaldo has been cited as one of Handel’s greatest operas. Of its individual numbers the soprano aria “Lascia ch’io pianga” has become a particular favourite and is a popular concert piece.
Handel began to compose operas in Hamburg, where he spent the years 1703–06; his principal influences were Johann Mattheson and Reinhard Keiser. At that time, German opera as a genre was still not clearly defined; in Hamburg the term Singspiel (“song-play”) rather than opera described music dramas that combined elements of French and Italian opera, often with passages of spoken German dialogue. The music was, in the words of historian Donald Jay Grout, “tinged with the serious, heavy formality of Lutheran Germany”. The first of Handel’s early works in the German style was Almira, a considerable success when it was premiered on 8 January 1705. Over the next three years Handel composed three more operas in the German style, but all of these are now lost. However, fragments of the music from these works have been identified in later operas.
Georg Ludwig, Elector of Hanover and later George I of Great Britain, appointed Handel to the Hanover court in 1710.
In autumn 1706 Handel went to Italy. He stayed for long periods in Florence, Rome, Naples and Venice, making frequent visits to the opera houses and concert halls. He obtained introductions to leading musicians, among them Arcangelo Corelli, Alessandro and Domenico Scarlatti, and Agostino Steffani, and met numerous singers and performers. From these acquaintances Handel learned the essential characteristics of Italian music, in particular (according to Dean and Knapp) “fluency in the treatment of Italian verse, accurate declamation and flexible harmonic rhythm in recitative, … drawing the necessary distinction between vocal and instrumental material and, above all, the release of [his] wonderful melodic gift”. Handel’s first Italian opera, Rodrigo, showed an incomplete grasp of Italian style, with much of Keiser’s Hamburg influence still evident; it was not a success when premiered in Florence, in late November or early December 1707. He followed this by a lengthy visit to Rome, where opera performances were then forbidden by papal decree, and honed his skills through the composition of cantatas and oratorios. In Rome, Handel met Cardinal Vincenzo Grimani, a diplomat and spare-time librettist; the result of this meeting was a collaboration which produced Handel’s second Italian opera, Agrippina. After this work’s triumphant premiere at the Teatro San Giovanni Grisostomo in Venice, on 26 December 1709, Handel became, says biographer P. H. Lang, “world famous and the idol of a spoiled and knowledgeable audience”.
This sudden recognition led to eager competition for Handel’s services. Among those most keen to employ him was Prince Georg Ludwig, the Elector of Hanover and future King George I of Great Britain. In June 1710 Handel accepted the appointment of Kapellmeister to Georg’s Hanover court, under terms that gave him considerable scope to pursue his own interests. On the basis of this freedom, in late 1710 Handel left Hanover for London, possibly in response to an earlier invitation from members of the English nobility. By 1711, informed London audiences had become familiar with the nature of Italian opera through the numerous pastiches and adaptations that had been staged. The former Royal Academy of Music Principal, Curtis Price, writes that the popularity of these pieces was the result of a deliberate strategy aimed at the suppression of English opera. Handel’s music was relatively unknown in England, though his reputation from Agrippina was considerable elsewhere. A short “Italian Dialogue” he had written in honour of Queen Anne’s birthday was well received when performed at St James’s Palace on 6 February 1711.
In London, by means which are not documented, Handel secured a commission to write an Italian opera for the Queen’s Theatre in the Haymarket (it became the “King’s Theatre” after King George I’s accession in 1714). This theatre, designed and built by Sir John Vanbrugh, had become London’s main opera house; its manager, Aaron Hill, intended to mount the first Italian opera written specifically for London and had engaged an all-Italian company for the 1710–11 opera season. Hill employed an Italian poet and language teacher, Giacomo Rossi, to write a libretto based on a scenario that Hill prepared himself. As his subject Hill chose Gerusalemme liberata, an epic of the First Crusade by the 16th-century Italian poet Torquato Tasso; the opera was called Rinaldo, after the main protagonist. Hill was determined to exploit to the full the opportunities for lavish spectacle afforded by the theatre’s machinery; his aim, according to Dean and Knapp, was “to combine the virtuosity of Italian singing with the extravagance of the 17th century masque”.
- Place: in and around the city of Jerusalem during the First Crusade
- Time: 1099
- Act 1
The Crusader army under Goffredo is laying siege to Jerusalem, where the Saracen king Argante is confined with his troops. With Goffredo are his brother Eustazio, his daughter Almirena, and the knight Rinaldo. As Goffredo sings of the coming victory, Rinaldo declares his love for Almirena, and Goffredo confirms that she will be Rinaldo’s bride when Jerusalem falls. Almirena urges Rinaldo to fight boldly and assure victory. As she departs, a herald announces the approach of Argante from the city. Eustazio surmises that the king fears defeat; this seems to be confirmed when Argante, after a grandiose entrance, requests a three-day truce to which Goffredo graciously assents. After Goffredo leaves, Argante ponders his love for Armida, the Queen of Damascus who is also a powerful sorceress, and considers the help her powers might bring him. As he muses, Armida arrives from the sky in a fiery chariot. She has divined that the Saracens’ only chance of victory lies in vanquishing Rinaldo, and has the power, she claims, to achieve this.
The scene changes to a garden, with fountains and birds, where Rinaldo and Almirena are celebrating their love. They are interrupted as Armida appears, and wrests Almirena from Rinaldo’s embrace. Rinaldo draws his sword to defend his lover, but a black cloud descends to envelop Armida and Almirena, and they are borne away. Rinaldo mourns the loss of his loved one. When Goffredo and Eustazio arrive they comfort Rinaldo, and propose they visit a Christian magician who may have the power to save Almirena. Rinaldo, left alone, prays for strength.
- Act 2
Armida falls in love with Rinaldo. 1616 painting by Nicolas Poussin.
A sea shore. As Goffredo, Eustazio and Rinaldo near the magician’s lair, a beautiful woman calls from her boat, promising Rinaldo that she can take him to Almirena. Two mermaids sing of love’s delights, and urge Rinaldo to go in the boat. He hesitates, unsure what to do, and his companions attempt to restrain him. Angry at the abduction of his loved one, Rinaldo enters the boat, which immediately sails off. Goffredo and Eustazio are shocked at Rinaldo’s impulsiveness and believe that he has deserted their cause.
In Armida’s palace garden, Almirena mourns her captivity. Argante joins her and, overcome by her beauty, confesses that he now loves her. He promises that as proof of his feelings he will defy Armida’s wrath and secure Almirena’s freedom. Meanwhile Rinaldo is brought before the triumphant Armida. As he demands that Almirena be set free, Armida finds herself drawn to his noble spirit, and declares her love. When he angrily rejects her she uses her powers to assume Almirena’s form, but Rinaldo suspects trickery, and departs. Armida, resuming her own appearance, is furious at her rejection yet retains feelings of tender love. She decides on another attempt to ensnare Rinaldo, and transforms herself back into Almirena’s shape, but then encounters Argante. Believing her to be Almirena, Argante repeats his earlier promises of love and freedom. Swiftly resuming her own form, Armida denounces his infidelity. and vows vengeance. Defiantly, Argante confirms his love for Almirena and declares that he needs Armida’s help no longer. She departs in a fury.
- Act 3
A mountainside, at the magician’s cavern. Goffredo and Eustazio are told by the Magician that Almirena is being held captive in Armida’s palace at the mountain-top. Ignoring the magician’s warning that they will need special powers, the pair set off for the palace but are quickly driven back by Armida’s monsters. The magician then gives them magic wands that transcend Armida’s power, and they set off again. This time they overcome the monsters, but as they reach the gates of the palace it disappears, leaving them clinging to a rock in the midst of a stormy sea. They climb the rock and descend out of sight.
In the palace garden Armida prepares to kill Almirena. Rinaldo draws his sword, but Armida is protected from his wrath by spirits. Suddenly Goffredo and Eustazio arrive, but as they touch the garden with their wands it disappears, leaving them all on an empty plain with the city of Jerusalem visible in the distance. Armida, after a last attempt to kill Almirena, also disappears as Rinaldo strikes her with his sword. The remaining four celebrate their reunion, while Goffredo announces that the attack on Jerusalem will begin the next day.
In the city, Argante and Armida, in danger from a common enemy, become reconciled and prepare their troops for battle. Goffredo’s army advances, and battle finally commences. After a struggle for supremacy, Jerusalem falls to Goffredo; Argante is overcome and captured by Rinaldo, while Armida is taken by Eustazio. Rinaldo and Almirena celebrate their love and forthcoming marriage. Armida, accepting her defeat, breaks the wand which is the source of her evil power and together with Argante embraces Christianity. Goffredo expresses his forgiveness to his beaten foes and sets them free, before victors and vanquished join in a chorus of reconciliation.
- Revisions, 1717 and 1731
The opera was frequently revised, most particularly in 1717 and in 1731; modern performances are usually a conflation of the versions available. Up to and including 1717, these changes had no significant effect on the plot. In the 1731 version, however, in Act 2 Armida imitates Almirena’s voice rather than assuming her appearance, and Argante declares his love to Almirena’s portrait rather than to her face. In Act 3 the marches and the battle scene are cut; Armida and Argante remain unrepentant and vanish in a chariot drawn by dragons before the conclusion