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, war 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 composed Rinaldo quickly, borrowing and adaptating music from operas and other works that he had composed during a long stay in Italy in the years 1706–10, during which he established a considerable reputation. In the years following the premiere, he made numerous amendments to the score. With its spectacular vocal and orchestral passages, Rinaldo is regarded by critics 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 went on to dominate opera in England for several decades. Rinaldo was revived in London regularly up to 1717, and was a revised version in 1731; of all Handel's operas, Rinaldo was the most frequently performed during his lifetime. After 1731, however, the opera was not staged for more than 200 years. Renewed interest in baroque opera during the 20th century led to the first modern professional production in Handel's birthplace, Halle, Germany, in 1954. The opera was mounted sporadically over the following thirty years; after a successful run at New York's Metropolitan Opera in 1984, performances and recordings of the work have become more frequent worldwide. The opera's tercentenary in 2011 brought a modernized production at the Glyndebourne Festival.
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.
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 Kapellmeisterto 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 its 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".