Rossini : ArmidaNew York, Met, 2010 (Audio)
Director: Riccardo Frizza
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The attitude towards the operas of Gioacchino Rossini changed half a century ago.
During the composer's lifetime (1792-1868) and for 100 years after, his operas were thought of as an assortment of interchangeable parts. Rossini himself took overtures and arias from some of his works and put them into others.
Sometimes Rossini gave permission for new productions that were comprised entirely of music from his earlier operas. One such was Robert Bruce, which included scenes from Armida and premiered in Paris in 1846. On other occasions, opera houses picked a batch of Rossini tunes and stitched them together into ballets.
Bel canto scholarship in the latter half of the 20th century led to "authentic" revivals of many Rossini operas and to the performance of "complete" versions. This has culminated in the Metropolitan Opera premiere this April and May of Armida, which received ten performances and which will be re-broadcast to cinemas on May 19 in the United States and May 22 in Canada.
Armida is a fantastical story about an alluring sorceress, set outside Jerusalem during the crusades. It features a soprano role with florid coloratura, huge vocal leaps and stormy expressions of rage. No wonder Renée Fleming wanted to sing it.
Seeing the high-definition screening to movie houses makes me wonder if our antecedents perhaps had the right idea after all. In Armida, wonderful scenes alternate with long patches of lesser interest. The beautiful singing and appearance of Fleming make this an event worth seeing in its encore presentations (and, expectedly, later on home TV.) She was especially brilliant in her long final scene which calls for rich legato singing as well as flashy ornamentation. Lawrence Brownlee was impressive as Armida's lover and rival, and an unusual trio for tenors was rewarding.
Keith Miller, who has become of the Met's most valuable supporting players, was almost unrecognizable in an outfit that seemed part devil and part animal, yet his dark voice stood out.
When this opera is performed again, however, trimming and cutting would not be out of order. All right, go ahead and call me a Philistine for saying that; the Philistines were native to the region where this opera was set.
I am not one of the traditionalist Mary Zimmerman-bashers. I admired her direction of Metamorphoses on Broadway and Lucia at the Met. Her conception of Armida, though, did not enthrall. She seemed too cautious, and the production was short on fantasy and magic. The clunky costumes of the men were inappropriate for Crusaders. Symbolic creatures and flowers were pretty but there wasn't much of a "wow" factor despite the presence of Lion King designer Richard Hudson and the excellent choreographer Graciela Daniele.
Oddly, the production makes no effort to capture the milieu of the Middle East - not even an exotic, fairy-tale evocation of that part of the world. The set was mundane, with the players surrounded by plain white walls on top of which were perched silent creatures representing Love and Revenge. They were distracting while adding little to the story.
Great moments are in this Armida, especially in the last act, but it takes a long time to get there.
Edited from The Opera Critics (Steve Cohen)
Kobie van Rensburg