Interesting how Rossini and his librettist Giovanni Schmidt treated the subject. In Schmidt’s vision, Armida and Rinaldo already know and love each other. With this expedient Rossini is able to put the focus quite fast on the great love duet in the first act. At the same time, composer and poet are Romantics ante litteram with all the rekindling of a flame, the return of love, suffered sacrifices etc. On top of that Rossini, as he managed to do only in Naples, experimented with musical forms and Armida is one of the complexer operas of the Neapolitan period. Armida was different from current works, shown by the quartet “Sfortunata, or che mi resta,” where music adapts admirably to the situation and change of affections and is almost as elaborate as a closing of an Act; or the first act so full of events to almost predict the grand opera; a second and third act dramaturgically quite calm, but full of magic predicting the magical works of Spohr, Weber etc… The second and third acts are, after an eventful first, almost without action, beginning a more introspective work in the characters, which culminates in the final scene of a bitter and angry Armida. The importance given by Rossini to Armida (his future wife Isabelle Colbran) and the opportunites given to the character were spotted by Maria Callas, who sang Armida in 1952, in a period where Rossini known to the public was confined mainly to Guillaume Tell and The Barber of Seville.
The conductor of the Gent production was Aberto Zedda, a Rossini specialist, a key figure in the rediscovery of Rossini for the last decades. However, he is more of a theoretical specialist than a good conductor. His beat lacked vibrance, had no rubati and was metronomic.
Better were the singers. Carmen Romeu sang Armida in Pesaro last year. Criticized at the time by many, I found her quite excellent, although driven by a director unable to give enough space to deploy her capabilities. In Gent I was surprised to hear some intonation problems. But I still find her a great Armida, remarkable in the coloratura, a great stage presence, a smooth and balanced voice from the lowest to the highest register. Enea Scala is a young tenor who is impatient to sing the the most difficult tenor roles. He has a nice tibre, the voice is flexible and bright. He certainly has the physique du role which helps and overall sings the difficult role of Rinaldo very convincingly. Robert McPherson sings well enough but his timbre in the higher part of his voice is dry and his approach to the role is a bit too delicate, almost Mozartian. I am not sure who wrote the variations, but they certainly brought out the shrillest, and most strident part of each singer. This was almost unbearable in the final cadenza of McPherson’s act I aria, where his voice was on the verge of breaking any second. Victims of unrefined variations were also Romeu and Scala in the finale of act I, trudging along flights of notes, composed regardless of their vocal capabilities. Dario Schmunck was overall acceptable as Goffredo/Carlo while Leonard Bernard and Adam Smith were vocally unpersuasive.
Zedda was not very convincing, but Clement’s direction was an outrageous mass of inconsistent ideas which stripped the opera of its dramatic force, a heap of platitudes of the lowest class, and one cringing banality after the other, leaving the opera without any expressiveness.
Musical director-Alberto Zedda, Staging-Mariame Clément, Set-Julia Hansen, Costumes-Julia Hansen, Lighting-Bernd Purkrabek, Armida-Carmen Romeu, Rinaldo-Enea Scala, Gernando/Ubaldo-Robert McPherson, Goffredo/Carlo-Dario Schmunck, Idraote/Astarotte-Leonard Bernad, Eustazio-Adam Smith