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Something evil

Adriatic Arena
08/10/2014 -  & August 13*, 16, 19, 2014
Gioachino Rossini: Armida
Carmen Romeu (Armida), Randall Bills (Geofredo, Ubaldo), Dmitry Korchak (Gernando, Carlo), Carlo Lepore (Idraote/Astarotte), Antonino Siragusa (Rinaldo), Vassilis Kavayas (Eustazio)
Chorus of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna, Andrea Faidutti (Chorus Master)Orchestra of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna, Carlo Rizzi (Conductor), Compagnia Abbondanza/Bertoni (Ensemble di danza)
Luca Ronconi (Director), Ugo Tessitore (Co-director), Margherita Palli (Settings), Giovanna Buzzi (Costumes), Michele Abbondanza (Choreography), AJ Weissbard (Lights)

C. Romeu (Courtesy of R.O.F.)

In the program notes, editors of this edition of Armida Charles S and Patricia B Brauner allude to extensive new research and the restoration of several missing pieces to the opera. Now with newly found chorus numbers, a duet, an aria and substantial ballet music restored, Armida is a massive work both in terms of the demands it makes on the performers and of the audience.

Designers Palli and Buzzi have drawn upon Sicilian "Opera dei Pupi" puppets in this production. On a huge, open stage framed with rock-like panels which slide to create more intimate spaces, the production is one of solid colours – earth browns for the first act and darkest coal black and grey for the scenes on Armida’s enchanted island. The stage is dominated by huge upright boxes framing parts of the action. All the crusaders are costumes as the pupi: red leggings and body, covered with brilliant silver armour, shield and helmet. All have whitened faces, rouged cheeks and painted cavalier moustaches. In the first act, the great boxes on-stage are filled with their compatriots – more puppets strung up for later use.

Armida is an exotic bird: her flowing black dress finished with brilliant blue plumage. This bird is not for the taking; she will fly off on a whim but for now, she chooses her target strategically and launches herself into a full romantic attack on Rinaldo. In the title role, Carmen Romeu explores the full potential of the witch: she conspires openly with Idraote, manipulates her mood to captivate the knights and Rinaldo and even relates directly to the audience her clearly ulterior motives. Ms Romeu’s voice is powerful even if some of the upper notes seemed a little forced in the first act. In the second and final acts, she was in her element figuratively as well as musically. She confidently attacked the hugely complex solos, purred and pouted her way through the seduction of Rinaldo using the gloriously honeyed mid and lower range and literally let fly in the finale rising to towering heights and massive volume. Hers is a sexy and smart Armida who needs not to rely upon magic alone to get her man.

As Idraote and Astarotte, Carlo Lepore is the embodiment of lurking evil. A great black bird with giant bat wings, his creature is a threatening and glowering presence. In the first act, he lurks behind Armida but in the latter parts of the opera, he comes into his own, exerting a monstrous force over the similarly bat-like figures of the chorus. Mr. Lepore’s voice is commanding.

Antoninio Siragusa is a virile and impressive Rinaldo. His voice is a clarion call to his followers, rising over even the most enormous body of sound from the orchestra and ensemble. From his earliest appearance, Mr. Siragusa magnetises the stage – his vocal presence cannot be overlooked and his men as well as Armida are irresistibly drawn to his personality. From the richest chest notes to his dazzling upper register, this is a solid and commendable performance. The audience reaction at curtain calls was deafening recognising a towering performance.

This opera becomes something of a showcase for the tenors even when some of the musical requirements venture well into the baritone range. Randall Mills and Dmitry Korchak give fine performances in their doubled roles. Both have powerful stage presence and when their singing is added to that of Mr Siragusa, this opera becomes a festival for the men even when most of the real vocal fireworks are reserved for the only female character.

In the second and final acts the upright boxes are gilded, holding various delights of the flora of the enchanted island and a feathered golden nest for Armida and her captive. The puppets of the first act are now broken and crashed to the ground. Against this, Armida in blazing scarlet seduces then loses her man. At the conclusion of her finale, the bat creatures return to her, attach giant red wings to her arms and assist her to fly away from the havoc she has wrought.

Carlo Rizzi’s rapid pace throughout drove this captivating production. Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna, were glorious in their sound. Polished, nuanced and rich, they produced an exemplary sound. Replete with extensive contemporary ballet in the realm of the enchantress, this show is visually powerful and musically satisfying. Virtuoso performances and engaging staging make a great night at the theatre.

Gregory Pritchard



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