Online opera guide and synopsis to Händel’s RINALDO

Rinaldo is Handel’s opera with the most hits and a firework of beautiful arias and stage effects. It is unbelievable that this opera was a Sleeping Beauty sleep for 200 years.





Act I 

Act II





Sulla ruota di fortuna

Furie terribili

Augelletti, che cantate

Cara sposa

Venti turbini

Siam prossimi al porto

Lascia ch’io pianga 

Vo’ far guerra

Or la tromba in suon festante



Recording recommendation

♪ Recording recommendation




London, 1712


Aaron Hill (plot) and Giacomo Rossi (libretto) based on Torquato Tasso's work La Gerusalemme liberata.

The main roles

Goffredo, leader of the Crusaders (alto)- Rinaldo, commander of Goffredo (soprano) - Almirena, daughter of Goffredo and lover of Rinaldo (soprano) - Eustazio, officer of the Crusaders (alto) - Argante, leader of the besieged city of Jerusalem (bass) - Armida, sorceress and wife of Argante (soprano).

Recording recommendation

WARNER BROTHERS with Cheryl Studer, Richard Leech, Thomas Hampson and José van Dam conducted by Michel Plasson and the Orchestra and Choir of the Capitole of Toulouse and the Choir of the French Army.






Handel’s arrival in London and acquaintance with Aaron Hill.

With the opera Agrippina, Handel celebrated his greatest success to date in 1709 at the age of 24, crowning and ending his three years of Italian apprenticeship and travel. After the triumphant performance in Venice, his name became known throughout Europe and he became a much sought-after man. The Roman cardinal Pamphili called him “the new Orpheus”. So his return to Germany was only a short stopover, his destination was the English metropolis.
When he arrived in London in November 1711, he made the acquaintance of Aaron Hill, the only 24 years old director of the Queen’s Theatre at the Haymarket, who as a tenant and impresario wanted to be the first to bring Italian opera to London. When he heard that Handel had come to London, he proposed a joint project to the Saxon: to establish the Italian opera in London with a bang. Handel was enthusiastic and Hill drafted the libretto for Rinaldo within a very short time.



The libretto

Hill took Torquato Tasso’s work “La Gerusalemme liberata” (The Liberated Jerusalem) as a basis, expanded the plot to include Almirene and drafted a sketch of the work. By designing the plot himself, he had the opportunity, as a clever dramatist, to incorporate “the desired special effects” (see below in the section on premiere) into the plot. In November, he commissioned the Italian theater poet Giacomo Rossi to write a libretto, which he completed after only a few weeks. The libretto may have suffered a little from the short time it was written (the plot is a bit confused and constructed) but it ignited the spark of genius and inspired Handel with its beautiful scenes.



The composition of the music

Handel began work in December. The first performance was scheduled for February, so there was not much time for the composition of the work. Handel did what was usual at the time: he took many themes from pieces of his earlier works and rewrote them. It is estimated that he recycled about 14 pieces; Dean and Knapp (“Handel Operas, 1704-1726”) even called Rinaldo “an anthology of the best works of Handel’s Italian period”. Indeed, the collection of “hits” in Rinaldo is fantastic: Vo’ far guerra, Cara sposa, Augelletti, che cantate and Lascia ch’io pianga are musical delicacies in the best sense of the word. Three of these four pieces belong to Handel’s specialty, the best musical weapon in the fight for the audience’s favor: the lament (read more in the section about “cara sposa”). Handel was to write his most famous lament in Serse years later, his famous “Ombra mai fu”.
Handel thus recycled more than half of the melodic ideas, he had to rewrite the recitatives, but one must nevertheless acknowledge with astonishment that he completed the opera in an incredible 14 days.



Opera seria

Music and libretto follow the conventions of opera seria. The characters correspont to the classical character types (the 2 couples, the powerful ruler, the traitor) and the plot has a noble character. The music follows the conventions of the canto fiorito, where the virtuosos could show their skills and improvisational art in the da capo arias. As a harmonic basis for the music he used the basso continuo (Wikipedia: The basso continuo consists of the lowest instrumental part (bass line) in connection with the chords that fit the melody and the musical sequence), which he richly endowed with lute, harpsichord and cello. The most frequently used form was the da capo aria.


The premiere

Hill wanted to present this opera with a bang in London. For this purpose he used the brilliant stage technique of the haymarket theater to present fire-breathing dragons, flying machines and black clouds. Dozens of live sparrows were used which caused enthusiasm among the audience.
Hill was not stingy with the cast either. The entire theater crew was made up of Italians, including the leading castrati Nicolini (who sang Rinaldo) and Valentini (in the role of Eustazio).
Rinaldo was an immediate success and was performed 13 times in the first season. It subsequently became the most frequently performed Handel opera ever. Twenty years later it was played for the last time and then disappeared from the repertoire for 200 years until it was rediscovered in 1954.



Versions of Rinaldo

There are officially two versions of Rinaldo (the second from 1731), and countless variations, since Handel adapted the parts to the singers’ abilities depending on the instrumentation.









Synopsis: Jerusalem is besieged by crusaders. In the Christian camp are their leader Goffredo, his daughter Almirena and his commander Rinaldo.

Already in the overture, one hears the sound of Handel’s orchestra, which was immensely rich for the circumstances of the time. It is a French overture with a slow beginning and a fugal part in fast tempo, both parts are repeated.

We listen to the the Hogwood recording from 1998. Hogwood was the founder of the Academy of ancient music, which from the 1970s onwards wanted to offer authentic listening experiences with contemporary instruments. His style was gripping and direct, the string parts were deliberately kept with little vibrato (which was sometimes felt by some to be too dry).

Overture – Hogwood


Synopsis: Goffredo encourages his commander Rinaldo to start the storming of Jerusalem, which will bring the crusade to a crowning conclusion.

Handel wrote a sweeping Da Capo Aria (fast, slow, fast).

We are listening to David Daniels, a counter tenor who caused a sensation with this performance in the Hogwood recording.

Delle nostre fatiche … Sovra balze scoscesi e pungenti


Synopsis: Goffredo promises Rinaldo the hand of his daughter Almirena as a reward. Almirena joyfully awaits her wedding with the commander and urges him to fight.

A moving aria with many leaps in tone and ornaments. We hear a beautiful dialogue between oboe and voice in the second part of the aria.

Combatti da forte, che fermo il mio sen  –  Persson


Synopsis: Rinaldo is ready to start the fight, trumpets announce an emissary of Jerusalem who wishes a conversation between the monarch of Jerusalem and Goffredo. Goffredo accepts, but Eustazio wants them to seek battle now.

Accompanied by a beautiful trio of basso continuo, Eustazio sings sung coloraturas.

You can hear this piece from the counter tenor Christophe Dumaux.

Sulla ruota di fortuna  –  Dumaux



The appearance of Argante

Synopsis: Argante, the ruler of Jerusalem appears.

With the music of fanfares and percussion and tutti orchestra, Argante appears pompous.

We hear this piece in the interpretation by Samuel Ramey. The famous bass had an excellent coloratura technique.

Sibillar gli angui d’Aletto – Ramey


Synopsis: He demands 3 days of ceasefire, which the confident Goffredo generously grants him.

No, no, che quest’alma – Genaux


Synopsis: Argante wants to gain time to make a plan with his wife, the sorceress Armida, to change the fortunes of war in their favor.

We hear Luca Pisaroni in this aria. He sang Handel for a long time, but he left the subject because “in the Baroque it is always about singing lightly and high”. Pisaroni has a powerful voice and he loves to sing Mozart roles, his parade role is Figaro.

Vieni o cara, a consolarmi  –  Pisaroni

The brilliant appearance of Armida

Synopsis: Armida appears on a carriage floating in the air, pulled by two fire-breathing dragons with smoke pouring out of their mouths.

Armida appears with dramatic music.

Furie terribili!


Synopsis: Argante wants to know from her how they can turn the tide. Armida sees their only chance if they succeed in eliminating Rinaldo. Without his martial arts, the Christians would not succeed in taking Jerusalem.

Armida sings her plan with impressive coloraturas and accompanied by an oboe.

Molto voglio, molto spero, Nulla devo dubitar


The great bird scene

Synopsis: Almirena sits in the aviary of the crusaders’ camp and waits eagerly to receive Rinaldo in her arms.

We hear a long introduction with birdsong imitated by recorders. Almirena’s soprano sets in, and the two voices imitate each other. Aaron Hill overwhelmed the audience with this scene: he brought live sparrows onto the stage. Hundreds of sparrows flew into the stage sky and accompanied the singer with their singing.Unfortunately, it was difficult to collect the sparrows and the visitors were advised to wear headgear during the performances.

Joyce di Donato, the American mezzo-soprano (“the Yankee Diva”) sings the great tragic roles of bel canto and earlier epochs. She brings the pain of the soul into the genre of coloratura soprano without seeming overexcited.

Augelletti, che cantate  –  Di Donato      


Synopsis: Rinaldo appears and the two cannot wait for their wedding.

A beautiful, atmospheric duet.

Scherzano sul tuo volto  –  Bartoli / Daniels

The famous aria «Cara sposa»

Synopsis: Armida appears and wants to kidnap Almirena. Rinaldo draws his sword. But monsters appear from a black cloud and float away with the two women. Lonely Rinaldo laments the loss of his beloved.

Handel said of this aria that it was perhaps the most beautiful one he had written. It is one of his great arias for castratos, which he wrote for these singing virtuosos with their long breath.
After a chromatic introduction by the strings, the voice begins with a great Messa di voce (“swelling and declining of the voice volume during the sustaining tone, ideally from pianissimo to fortissimo and vice versa, without changing the pitch and other aspects such as intonation and vibrato. The castratos of the Baroque period, which were generally very powerfully built, were thus able to demonstrate their controlled power and lung volume”. (Wikipedia). The following notes must be sung with the greatest legato and chromatic changes of tone to create the desolation of the moment. This is followed by the repeated “dove sei”. Handel’s laments are one of his greatest specialties. An important stylistic element of these laments were these sighing motifs. Chromatic tone sequences, dying tones and resigning pauses create the desperate mood.

We first hear the aria in the interpretation of David Daniels, the famous American countertenor. He sang the Rinaldo in Hogwood’s sensational recording with Cecilia Bartoli in the leading role. His voice is touching with naturalness and opulence.

Cara sposa (1)  –  Daniels


We hear the aria also by Andreas Scholl, another star of the countertenor scene. His voice is a bit more masculine than that of Daniels. The interpretation seems even more soulful, which is partly due to the much slower tempo.

Cara sposa (2)  –  Scholl

A bravura aria for the castrato

Synopsis: Goffredo and Eustazio approach and hear from the shaken Rinaldo what has just happened. Eustazio advises Rinaldo to seek out a mysterious man who reads in the stars. He lives in a forest and can give advice on how to get Almirena back. Rinaldo is ready to find the magician.

The aria “Venti, turbini, prestate” is one of Handel’s bravura arias composed to bring out Nicolini’s voice.

This time we hear the aria interpreted by a mezzo-soprano. It is the American Vivica Genaux, who sang the title role on the recording by Rene Jacobs.

Venti turbini  –  Genaux






The beautiful serene sea atmosphere

Synopsis: Goffredo, Eustazio and Rinaldo set out on their journey. After a boat trip they go ashore at a port.

We hear an enchanting aria with elegiac sea atmosphere, sung by Eustazio. The role of Eustazio was deleted in the 1731 version and this aria was passed on to Goffredo.

Siam prossimi al porto  –  Dumaux


Synopsis: There they meet a “Donna” who has gotten off a ship. Sirens are dancing beside her. They want to lure Rinaldo onto a ship with which he shall find his way to Almirena.

We hear the seductive song of the sirens.

Il vostro maggio


Synopsis: Rinaldo is ready to go on the ship

A sweeping conclusion closes this solemn aria.

Il tricerbero umiliato  – Podles


Synopsis: Fearing a trap, Goffredo and Eustazio try to hold him back. If he boards the boat, he will not be back in time for the battle. But Rinaldo refuses their advice and sails away with the ship. Goffredo fears to lose the battle, Rinaldo and his daughter.

Goffredo sings a moving aria full of difficult coloratura, accompanied by a beautiful string section.

Mio cor, che mi sai dir?

Another highlight: “Lascia ch’io pianga”

Synopsis: Almirena sits sadly in the garden of the palace.

Lascia ch’io pianga is one of the most famous arias by George Frideric Handel. He had already composed it in 1705, and transformed it into a lamentation aria for Rinaldo. Händel managed to write an aria that is touching by its simplicity. He wrote it in the form of a sarabande, a triple measure with a stretching of the second bar. The combination with the typical chromaticism of the note sequence and the effective ¼ pauses result in the famous sighing motif of Handel’s Lamentos. We hear this effect right at the beginning.

The aria was recorded by countless singers, we hear 2 selected interpretations.

First by the American soprano Marilyn Horne. In the first part she dispenses with ornamentation, which emphasizes the simplicity of the piece. Her vibrato is very expressive and her stupendous technique allows her to sing beautiful trills in the middle part.

Lascia ch’io pianga (1)  –  Horne


A touching interpretation by Patricia Petitbon, very sensitively accompanied.

Lascia ch’io pianga (2)  –  Petitbon



Argante and Almira become weak

Synopsis: Argante has fallen in love with Almirena and wants to know what she wishes for her love. She demands her freedom. Argante becomes weak and promises to help her. Not far from Almirene the captured Rinaldo is brought to Armida. At the sight of him, Armida falls in love with the commander, but Rinaldo does not return her love. Almira uses a ruse and turns into Almire, but Rinaldo soon recognizes the masquerade. Almira is agitated. She is torn between her desire to punish Rinaldo and her love for him. She decides once again to transform herself into Almirene and waits for Rinaldo. Argante joins in and confesses his love to the supposed Almirene. Armida is angry, transforms back and swears revenge to him.

The virtuoso harpsichord passage

Handel used to accompany the orchestra from the harpsichord. He was a great virtuoso and delighted his audience with improvised improvised solos. This aria consists of a dialogue between the harpsichord and Almira.

Vo’ far guerra, e vincer voglio  – Organosova






Showdown at the castle

Synopsis: Eustazio, Goffredo and soldiers are in front of a mountain, on top of which stands a castle enchanted by Armida. In the valley there is the cave of the magician. They meet him and he tells them that Rinaldo and Almirene are Almira’s prisoners in the castle, which is guarded by monsters. The two of them set off, haunted by the magician’s warnings that they will die. In front of the castle they are driven away by fire-breathing monsters and they return to the magician. The magician hands them magic wands, which work against the monsters. Meanwhile Almira holds a knife to the throat of Almirena. Rinaldo comes along and tries to prevent them from killing, but ghosts hold him back. At this moment Goffredo and Eustazio arrive. They touch the garden with the magic wand and it turns into a desert, Jerusalem can be seen in the distance. When Almira tries once again to kill Almirena, Rinaldo falls on her with his saber and she disappears in a crevice in the ground. Father and daughter embrace happily. Goffredo asks Rinaldo to go into battle and achieve victory.

We hear the beautiful thoughtful aria from the Jacobs recording.

Sorge nel petto, certo diletto  –  Zazzo



Almira and Argante reconcile

Synopsis: Almira is back in town and meets Argante. The two reconcile again and swear to defeat the attackers.

Al trionfo del nostro furore  –  Pisaroni / Rae


Synopsis: Meanwhile, Rinaldo and Almirene are happy to be reunited.

Handel composed a beautiful effect by having the lively coloratura aria accompanied in unison by strings.

Bel piacere è godere fido amo  –  Bartoli



Synopsis: Rinaldo and Goffredo prepare for battle. Goffredo will lead the main army and Rinaldo the flank. Eustazio is assigned to protect the camp and Almirena.

Di Sion nell’alta sede  –  Dumaux



The brilliant aria with trumpet accompaniment

Synopsis: Rinaldo prepares for the attack with his troops.

The trumpets that suddenly begin to play surprise the listener and create a glow that is familiar from his water or fireworks music. The virtuosic dialogue and mutual imitation that Rinaldo and the trumpets perform is beautiful.

Or la tromba in suon festante  –  Daniels


The happy end

Synopsis: The struggle surges back and forth, Rinaldo can bring about the victory of the Christians with a flank attack. Argante and Armida are led in chains to the Christians. They acknowledge the new gods and together and sing the moral of story.


Vinto è sol della virtù
Degli affetti il reo livor.
E felice è sol qua giù
Chi dà meta a un vano cor.

Only the virtue of the one can be defeated,
Who is capable of resentment.
Happy is he who shall be,
Who does not pursue a vain aim.

Vinto è sol della virtù






Recording Recommendation

DECCA, David Daniels, Cecilia Bartoli, Bernarda Fink, Daniel Taylor conducted by Christopher Hogwood and the academy of ancient music




Peter Lutz, opera-inside, the online opera guide on RINALDO by George Frederic Händel.






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  1. […] RINALDO by G. F. Handel – the opera guide and synopsis “Castrati first appeared in Italy in the mid-16th century, though at first the terms describing them were not always clear. The phrase soprano maschio (male soprano), which could also mean falsettist, occurs in the Due Dialoghi della Musica (Two dialogues upon music) of Luigi Dentice, an Oratorian priest, published in Rome in 1553. On 9 November 1555 Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este (famed as the builder of the Villa d’Este at Tivoli), wrote to Guglielmo Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua (1538–1587), that he has heard that the Duke was interested in his cantoretti (little singers) and offered to send him two, so that he could choose one for his own service. This is a rare term but probably does equate to castrato.[7] The Cardinal’s nephew, Alfonso II d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, was another early enthusiast, inquiring about castrati in 1556. There were certainly castrati in the Sistine Chapel choir in 1558, although not described as such …” (Wikipedia) […]

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