The Portland Opera freshens the 18th c. opera Rinaldo by camping it up. Last night was the debut of the George Frideric Handel piece; set during the First Crusade, the Baroque opera has the anticipated pompadours, lengthy vocal passages, love stories with convoluted plot lines, and strange Baroque instruments (why hello, theorbo).

They keep it modern, however, in the delivery: all is done with an overriding, cheeky, slapstick delivery, and, maybe slightly surprising, is that the lead male role (knight Rinaldo) is played by a woman, Caitlin Mathes (looking something like Tina Fey in drag).

Rinaldo (Caitlin Mathes) at the foot of Almirena (Sharin Apostolou)
  • Cory Weaver
  • Rinaldo (Caitlin Mathes) at the foot of Almirena (Sharin Apostolou)

I always enjoy the humbleness of the smaller stage that is the Newmark Theatre—it allows for a focus on the drama and gestures, as opposed to the immense, sight-and-sound-swallowing Keller Auditorium. André Chiang does an excellent job as the booming baritone Argante (the king of Jerusalem). Lindsay Ohse has just the right saunter and swagger to convince as the conniving temptress Armida. The costuming is overridden with red damask—the curtains, the suits, and so on. The staging is kept simple throughout, with drapery and one large wall that doubles as a dramatic door.

The show runs around two and half hours, with a question and answer session at the end. It's a demanding and exhausting piece, musically and aurally, but the small stage makes it a more intimate, approachable experience. And did I mention the mermaids? There's mermaids!

The show runs through March 23, at Newmark Theatre. For tickets, go here.