Gioachino Rossini: Armida
John Osborn (Goffredo), Yeghishe Manucharyan (Eustazio), Renée Fleming (Armida), Peter Volpe (Idraote), Barry Banks (Gernando/Carlo), Lawrence Brownlee (Rinaldo), Keith Miller (Astarotte), Kobie van Rensburg (Ubaldo), Teele Ude (Love), Isaac Scranton (Revenge), Aaron Loux (Ballet Rinaldo), The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Chorus, and Ballet, Donald Palumbo (Chorus Master), David Chan (violin solo), Rafael Figueroa (cello solo), Riccardo Frizza (Conductor), Mary Zimmerman (Production), Richard Hudson (Set and Costume Designer), Brian MacDevitt (Lighting Designer), Graciela Daniele (Choreographer), Gary Halvorson (Video Director), Deborah Voigt (Host)
Recorded live at the Metropolitan Opera (May 1, 2010) - 171’ (Opera), 12’ (Bonus)
DECCA Ref. #: B0015226-09 – Picture Format: 16:9 - Color Mode: Color - DVD Format: NTSC – Sound Format: LPCM Stereo (DVD 1), DTS 5 :1 Surround (DVD 2) - Region Code : 0 – Subtitles in English, French, German, Spanish, and Chinese. Booklet in English
Drawn from the epic Gerusalemme liberate (“Jerusalem Delivered”) by XVIth century Italian poet Torquato Tasso, the story of the Christian warrior Rinaldo beguiled by the Damascene sorceress-princess has inspired many composers: Lully, Salieri, Haydn, Gluck, and Dvorák, to name a few.
Ignored for almost a century, Rossini’s Armida was unearthed in 1952 by twenty-eight-year-old Maria Callas at Florence’s Maggio musicale. In 1992, the year of Rossini’s bicentennial, the Tulsa Opera presented the North-American premiere, quickly followed in 1993 by Pesaro’s Rossini Opera Festival, with Renée Fleming in the title role.
In 2010, The Metropolitan Opera mounted this highly challenging work expressly for Renée Fleming. Because of its threadbare plot, this overlong opera (close to 3 hours of music) is hard to sell to a modern audience. Therefore, Mary Zimmerman conceived a deliberately “theatrical” direction to maintain the spectator’s attention, with old-time stage tricks: abrupt, striking transformation effects, and illusions standing as a mirror of the sorceress’ power. Zimmerman places the action in a neo-classical, simple setting with vivid scenery and alluring costumes designed by Richard Hudson. Exotic, colorful touches such as giant birds and insects, peacock blue palm trees, and a field of red poppies, are all wonderfully enhanced by Brian MacDevitt’s dramatic lighting.
As usual, Renée Fleming is the epitome of vocal health. She navigates with complete confidence and little visible effort through an extremely demanding score packed with flamboyant fioriture. In the final scene, unleashing all the powers of hell against the errant knights, Fleming sweeps the audience off their feet with a blazing rendition of “Dove son io? ... È ver …” Although she does not tackle this repertoire very often, Fleming is technically and dramatically convincing in Armida’s excruciating part.
Armida is particularly noted for its six tenor roles. Leading the phalanx as Rinaldo, bel canto specialist Lawrence Brownlee remains unimpressed by the virtuosic writing and the two-octave tessitura - ranging from low D’s to high D’s - of the role. The surfeit of treacherous runs and the stratospheric high notes are performed with stunning facility. Less impressive, but still creditable, fellow tenors Kobie van Rensburg, Barry Banks, and John Osborn sing up to the challenge, along with bass Keith Miller whose deep voice offers a welcomed contrast to the plethora of tenor craziness.
In this vocal extravaganza bathed in vibrant colors and lighting, the Met Orchestra conducted by Riccardo Frizza almost goes unnoticed, except for the violin and cello solos played respectively by David Chan and Rafael Figueora.
The 12’ bonus includes the inevitable backstage shots of the Met and sugar-coating interviews with Zimmerman, Brownlee, Fleming, and Miller, conducted by soprano Deborah Voight.
Bel canto lovers may indulge themselves without hesitation.
Armida, Act 1, Duet