When Armida waves her magic wand she can conjure up storms. When Renée Fleming waves her magic wand she is able to persuade the Met to stage this rarely-performed Rossini opera. We should be grateful because it is a lot of fun, probably more fun than Rossini intended since it is is an opera seria. It may be rarely-performed because it needs a soprano of the calibre of Renée Fleming in the title role. Furthermore, it requires six tenors and operatic tenors are in very short supply.
Richard Hudson's sets are simple and flexible but very attractive. His costumes are more-or-less traditional with the crusaders recognizably dressed as such. Renée Fleming naturally wears a succession of stunning designer numbers. Mary Zimmerman's direction is clear and ungimmicky. The story anyway is quite familiar from Handel's Rinaldo and it also bears similarities to Handel's Alcina.
Musically, this opera is quite a find. It is no dud and it is clear that its rarity relates to the difficulty of producing it. It does not sound like typical Rossini and I did not notice the crescendi and repetitive motifs that I associate with him even though this is a mature work composed after the Barber of Seville. Nor does Renée Fleming sound as she does in her more usual German or French repertoire. Here her voice is lighter and higher but it is a mark of her prowess that she can adapt so well to the dazzling coloratura and high notes of this role. Lawrence Brownlee as her lover Rinaldo seems to lack some projection and does not stand out as the best of the six tenors. That honour probably goes to Barry Banks's Germando who has an early bath in this production after a rousing Act 1 aria he is killed by Rinaldo.
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