Opera Scotland

Armida

Music
Gioachino Rossini (born Pesaro, 29 February 1792; died Paris, 13 November 1868)

Text
Giovanni Schmidt

Source
Heroic poem Gerusalemme liberata (1575) by Torquato Tasso 1544-1595.

Premières
First performance: Naples (Teatro San Carlo), 9 November 1817.
First UK performance: London (Covent Garden), 30 January 1922 (concert).
First performance in Scotland Edinburgh (Usher Hall), 21 August 2001 (concert).
Scottish Opera première: N/A.

Background
Rossini came from a family of musicians, and his talent was recognised when still a child. His operas, both serious and comic, dominated the operatic world throughout his active career, which lasted twenty years from 1810.

Until quite recently, the most neglected area of Rossini’s output was the group of nine serious operas he produced in Naples between 1815 and 1822 of which Armida is the third. Neapolitan audiences were considered to be extremely sophisticated and keen to see new developments, and Rossini gave them just that. The technical demands made on the singers are terrifying. The leading soprano was Isabella Colbran, the composer’s mistress, and later his wife, though he seems to have abandoned her when her voice wore out. Even more sensational were the tenors David and Nozzari. For Armida he had more tenors at his disposal. Apart from a series of glorious duets between Armida and Rinaldo, the climax of the opera is the trio for three tenors as the three friends are reunited.

Armida was a popular subject for opera in the baroque period, featuring in works by Lully, Handel, Gluck and Haydn, among others. By Rossini’s time it was rather old-fashioned, but he wrote extraordinary music, including extensive ballets, and was able to rely on the stage designers to back him up – Armida’s flying chariot pulled by dragons would soon be capped by the final scene of Moses requiring the Red Sea to part.

Characters
Goffredo, leader of the Crusaders (tenor)
Rinaldo, a knight (tenor)
Idraote, a wizard, Armida’s companion (bass)
Armida, a Syrian princess and sorceress (soprano)
Gernando, a rival to Rinaldo (tenor)
Eustazio, friend of Rinaldo (tenor)
Ubaldo, another friend (tenor)
Carlo, and another (tenor)
Astarotte, a spirit in Armida’s enchanted garden (bass)

Plot Summary
The plot concerns a fantasised adaptation of episodes in the first Crusade, and takes place in the area surrounding Jerusalem. Armida is in love with Rinaldo, and also wishes to sabotage the efforts of the Crusaders. She therefore spirits him away to an enchanted garden and castle where they live in ecstasy. Eventually, his friends Ubaldo and Carlo arrive to persuade him to return to his duty.

RECORDINGS

KOCHEUROPA (2 CDs) Sung in Italian Recorded 1991

Conductor: Claudio Scimone
I Solisti Veneti
Cecilia Gasdia (Armida), Chris Merritt (Rinaldo), Bruce Ford (Gernando & Ubaldo).

An excellent modern recording, stylishly conducted. Scimone takes much of the music at hair-raising speeds which test the singers to the limit, but they do astonishing things. Gasdia sang just as brilliantly in the Edinburgh concert in 2001, when Rinaldo was sung by Bruce Ford, who thus became presumably the only tenor to have sung three of these fiendish roles. William Matteuzzi has a lighter, sweeter voice to add contrast, and sings beautifully in the great final trio.

Istituto Discografico Italiano (2 CDs) Sung in Italian Recorded 1952

Conductor: Tullio Serafin
Orchestra of Teatro Comunale Florence
Maria Callas (Armida), Francesco Albanese (Rinaldo), Mario Filippeschi (Gernando & Ubaldo).

A live recording from Florence, this is probably only for the extremely curious Callas enthusiasts. She gives a gloriously dramatic performance. Sadly the music is heavily cut, and in those days it was simply not possible to find tenors who could do the music justice, though they try their best. Serafin takes a leisurely approach when they need to negotiate difficult runs. The sound is rough at times and the chorus generally sounds as though they are singing through a thick fog from the far bank of the Arno. But Callas is still astonishing.

The Cast

Armida
 a Syrian princess and sorceress
Astarotte
 a spirit in Armida’s enchanted garden
Carlo
 and another
Eustazio
 friend of Rinaldo
Gernando
 a rival to Rinaldo
Goffredo
 leader of the Crusaders
Idraote
 a wizard, Armida’s companion
Rinaldo
 a knight
Ubaldo
 another friend

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