By Lynne Gray, PhD
Please note this is available at www.metopera.org
Monday, June 15
Rossini’s Armida ~ 2 Hrs 51 Mins
Conducted by Riccardo Frizza, starring Renée Fleming, Lawrence Brownlee, John Osborn, Barry Banks, and Kobie van Rensburg. Transmitted live on May 1, 2010.
This is the first of two Rossini rarities that are on the schedule for this week. Armida provides a showcase for one dazzling diva, six high-flying tenors and two dastardly basses. Renée Fleming delivers the title role, a Crusades-era Damascene sorceress who uses her beauty to further her ambitious, self-serving plans. Even she is not immune to love, however, and any real drama in the piece stems from the question of whether her allure and her enchantments, which can turn enemies into paramours, can also conjure real love that will survive the test of time.
The Saracen sorceress Armida’s job is to seduce and abduct (supposedly) heroic Christian crusaders in order to remove them from the battlefield. You can think of her as Carmen in the Holy Land – with magical powers, or Thaïs without the will to reform. This particular production, however, turns Renée Fleming into some kind of Disney princess gone wrong. Despite her dances with the devil, as it were, her chief conquest Rinaldo would not fear to bring this lovely lady home to his mother. In a nutshell, the production is nearly fatally kitschy. Six tenors line up against this beautiful, and supposedly dangerous (but who would believe it!) woman. The role, itself, is yet another soprano tour de force for Fleming (we have just seen her in one as Thaïs – not to mention the six other leading roles we have had the chance to see her in lately). She certainly can combine an alluring look with lyrical singing and bel canto coloratura – and that would be the main reason the Met has mounted this production, as well as the best reason for you to consider watching it.
Six Rossini tenors are a casting nightmare for any company, but the Met has lined up some good ones, headed by the incredibly talented Lawrence Brownlee as Rinaldo, a paladin (Christian Crusader) whom Armida ensnares with a combination of her beauty and her magic. His fellow tenors, in smaller but crucial roles are: John Osborn as Goffredo, a commander of the Christian forces; Yeghishe Manucharyan, as Eustazio, Goffredo’s brother; José Manuel Zapata, as Gernando, a paladin who challenges Rinaldo; Kobie van Rensburg and Barry Banks as the two paladins who come to rescue Rinaldo from Armida’s clutches. It is the latter two, along with Mr. Brownlee who sing the beautiful, wafting and deservedly famous trio for three tenors near the end of the opera.
The opera opens in an oasis in the desert outside Jerusalem at the time of the Crusades. The stage is surrounded by stone-white walls through which we glimpse the spires of a temple. Peering down from the walls are two silent characters, apparently embodiments of the two conflicting forces that drive the story and clash inside the psyche of Armida: Love (a winsome young girl in a red dress with Cupid bow and arrows, played by Teele Ude), and Revenge (a hulking, bare-chested man with flowing pants, like Douglas Fairbanks in “The Thief of Baghdad,” played by Isaac Scranton). The assembled Frankish knights are eager for battle, but their new commander, Goffredo reminds them that they must attend to the funeral rites for their recently slain leader, Dudone.
A noblewoman appears and introduces herself as the rightful ruler of Damascus whose throne has been usurped by her father’s evil brother, Idraote. She asks for their help and protection (ah, an irresistible damsel in distress, perhaps an early Mata Hari given that Idraote is actually with her in disguise). The sorceress’s plan is to weaken the enemy Crusaders by enchanting their leaders. The men are so dazzled by Armida’s beauty that they convince Goffredo to help her. Goffredo decides that the paladins must first choose a new leader, who will then pick ten soldiers to go with Armida and help her. They elect Rinaldo, much to the jealousy of the knight Gernando “Non soffrirò l’offesa” (I cannot suffer your offence).
As it turns out, Armida and Rinaldo had met once before when she saved his life and she is actually in love with him despite who he is. He, of course, returns her love “Amor… possente nome!” (Love… mighty name), but when they are caught together by Gernando, who publicly shames Rinaldo as a base womanizer, a duel ensues and Gernando is killed forcing Rinaldo to escape with Armida to avoid Goffredo’s anger.
Act II takes place in a magical garden, created for Armida by Astarotte (a prince of Hell) and his demon accomplices. Rinaldo is completely enthralled by Armida “Dove son io!” (Where am I) and she muses on the power of love “D’Amore al dolce impero” (Love is such a sweet master). He is more than willing to give himself over to her many charms.
By Act III, two of Rinaldo’s comrades arrive to rescue him. Even though they are overwhelmed by the beauty around them, they have been prepared and realize that it is all an illusion. They have their own magic in the form of a golden staff that protects them from the seductive powers of the nymphs. With a lot of convincing, they succeed in getting Rinaldo to actually look at himself in the famous trio, “In quale aspetto imbelle” (I look so cowardly) and then to leave with them. Try as she might, the abandoned Armida is unable to prevent their departure despite calling on all the powers of hell. She struggles momentarily between the aforementioned powers of Love and Revenge – but in the end chooses the latter, and her final words as she flies off in a rage are, “Dove son io?… Fuggì!” (Where am I? …. fled!).
1. Renée Fleming, borne aloft by demons in Zimmerman’s Armida staging at the Met. Photo Credit:
Beth Bergman / Metropolitan Opera, 2010.
2. Renée Fleming as Armida in Rossini’s “Armida” at the Met. Photo Credit: Beth Bergman / Metropolitan Opera, 2010.
3. Lawrence Brownlee as Rinaldo and Renée Fleming as Armida in Rossini’s “Armida” at the Met. Photo Credit: Beth Bergman / Metropolitan Opera, 2010.
4. Renée Fleming and assorted demons in Rossini’s “Armida” at the Met. Photo Credit:
Beth Bergman / Metropolitan Opera, 2010.
5. Lawrence Brownlee as Rinaldo and his fellow knights Carlo and Ubaldo (Barry Banks and Kobie van Rensburg) in Rossini’s “Armida” at the Met. Photo Credit: Beth Bergman / Metropolitan Opera, 2011.