Insight into the religions at war in the Middle East is a timely topic; add that to Handel's masterful score, written for castrati and now performed by a fabulous mezzo-soprano (contralto) and three mesmerizing counter-tenors and you have a recipe for a fascinating and enriching evening. That it takes place at the venerable Central City Opera House, which boasts the finest acoustics between Chicago and San Francisco, and you have enlightenment.

Phyllis Pancella (Rinaldo), back center, leads the Christian army
Phyllis Pancella (Rinaldo),
back center,
leads the Christian army
Photo Credit: Mark Kiryluk
The Italian libretto, written by Giacomo Rossi based on episodes of Torquato Tasso's 1581 Gerusalemme liberata ("Jerusalem Delivered") brings us back to the First Crusades, with the Christians and the Saracens (an ancient Islamic sect) in the midst of battle for the holy city of Jerusalem, the site of the First and Second Temple, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Dome of the Rock. Handel's London audience at the premiere in 1711 were, most assuredly, pleased by the heavy-handed Christian moral to the story, but don't let that keep you away from this treasure.

(Left to right) Megan Hart (Almirena) and Phyllis Pancella (Rinaldo)
(L to R) Megan Hart (Almirena)
and Phyllis Pancella (Rinaldo)
Photo Credit: Mark Kiryluk
The knight, Rinaldo (Phyllis Pancella), is promised the hand Almierena (Megan Hart), the daughter of the Christian General, Goffredo (David Walker), but only if Jerusalem is captured. During a three-day truce, the Saracen King, Argante (Joshua Hopkins), and his mistress, Armida (Kathleen Kim), the sorceress queen of Damascus, plot to capture Rinaldo, an esteemed military leader.

The vocal fireworks are worthy of the exotic settings, magic, and military overtones: such an alchemy of warm female and bright male voices is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Matthew Halls' direction and the festival orchestra's shadings bring a luster of baroque-period verisimilatude to the score.

(Left to right) David Walker (Goffredo) and Claire Kuttler (Donna)
(L to R) David Walker (Goffredo)
and Claire Kuttler (Donna)
Photo Credit: Mark Kiryluk
Director Marc Astafan and scenic designer Caleb Wertenbaker deftly handle the challenges of the mis-en-scène—the queen's boudoir and the parting of the sea are especially memorable.

Central City Opera's Rinaldo continues through August 1st, for a total of eight performances. Call 303-292-6700; 800-851-8175; or

Bob Bows


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