People often chuckle in disbelief when I tell them Rinaldo is my favorite opera. Indeed, this exuberant gem of Baroque opera has uplifted and soothed me throughout many ups and downs of life — especially the character of Armida. For years, I have used her “Vo’ far guerra” as my alarm clock — waking up to her glorious music somehow always gives me the drive to stand up and fight for the battle I need to face each day.
In retrospect, I can understand why I resonate so much with this opera. Rinaldo was Handel’s first opera written for London, composed to Aaron Hill’s scenario, based on Torquato Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata, given its first performance at the Queen’s Theatre, Haymarket, in 1711. Despite his popularity in Hanover, Handel was an unknown foreign artist to London audiences. In a way, the music of Rinaldo reflects his determination to prove and conquer as an ‘outsider.’ Like Handel, I am a foreigner who has spent the past decade trying to prove myself in the field of opera in America — maybe that’s why I pick up so many emotional undercurrents within
Yet, from a critical analysis perspective, Rinaldo has its problems — most evidently, the original plot was based in biased and problematic portrayals of Muslims, which we find unacceptable. Therefore, I was especially mindful and cautious when I was offered to direct Rinaldo at Minnesota Opera. Our conductor, Emily Senturia and I reviewed the libretto of the opera and edited out antiquated and offensive expressions from the original texts. Moreover, through my research on the First Crusade, I notice that people tend to forget that opening the trade market also plays a pivotal role in this saga.
With this notion in mind, I decided to transform the story into a fantasized corporate world in mid-1980s on Wall Street. Differing from the original plot, our production has no absolute saint or villain; Goffredo, Rinaldo, and Almirena represent the ‘Old Money’ family in America, whereas Argante and Armida are the stock aristocrats who have amassed huge fortune thanks to the long bull market. Each side is fighting for monetary control of the market. Moreover, I am really interested in examining the parallel trajectories between Almirena and Armida — how do those two women, who come from drastically different backgrounds, carve out a place for themselves in a male-dominant business world. It is not about one hero who saves the world. Rather, I want to explore the gray areas in the intertwined world of those characters.
Some friends have dubbed this concept as the opera version of Working Girl while others referred to it as the classical music version of Succession. Whatever references you can relate to, I hope you get to enjoy this production of Rinaldo as an eerily fascinating corporate carnival. As a society, we have progressed so much in fine-tuning our value system — what used to be overlooked in classical canons cannot be ignored, which is indeed a blessing for creative workers at this moment. Yet, in some respects, I find we still get entrapped in a similar cycle — thinking about the soaring inflation and rollercoasters of the stock market right now, have we really learned our lesson? I look forward to exploring this together with you all in this production.