Armida, Rossini (DVD)
Renée Fleming (Armida), Lawrence Brownlee (Rinaldo), Barry Banks (Gernando/Carlo), John Osborn (Goffredo), Kobie van Rensburg (Ubaldo), Yeghishe Manucharyan (Eustazio), Peter Volpe (Idraote), Keith Miller (Astarotte), Chorus and Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera, c. Riccardo Frizza, p. Mary Zimmermann, d. Richard Hudson, video director Gary Halvorson. Decca DVD 074 3416 (171 minutes)
This is the live performance of 1 May 2010, already seen in selected cinemas and now issued for wider circulation. It came a fortnight after the performance Martin Bernheimer reviewed (June 2010, pp. 724-5) with minor cast adjustments. Bernheimer dismissed the staging in just five lines, understandably, since it is in no sense a grown-up attempt to address the work’s strengths; the dear little Cupid brandishing title boards and a fair amount of audience laughter suggest that no one was taking it very seriously. All right, this is not always Rossini at his best—compared, say, to Gluck’s treatment of the same material—but it deserves better. The glacial permanent set, the absence of any erotic atmosphere or tension, or indeed of any Personenregie at all, risible choreography—no, forget it.
But musically, there is a great deal to commend. In terms of a live performance, Renée Fleming’s Armida is amazing: consistently beautiful sound, all the notes at top and bottom, spot-on agility in even the trickiest fioriture, all made to sound almost too easy. Dramatically, she spends the first two acts smiling seraphically—for heaven’s sake, there is more to Armida than that—and only starts to rise to the role’s potential in the finale, a bit late. But the singing …
And all those tenors? Lawrence Brownlee also fields beautifully liquid tone as Rinaldo, and has a technical proficiency to match Flórez. With a little help from a director this would be a great interpretation. Barry Banks, in his double assignment, gives him a good run for his money, and with slightly more edge to his tone he makes a real showpiece of Gernando’s first-act aria—a pity the character is killed soon after. But Banks returns for the third-act tenor trio, to join Brownlee and the mellifluous Kobie van Rensburg. John Osborn and Yeghishe Manucharyan are both very good—nothing wrong with the Met’s casting. When Rossini tenors started to re-emerge, everyone worried about whether they had the top notes; nowadays the bottom notes seem almost more of a challenge. These five pass the test, just.
The Met Orchestra and Chorus are on excellent form for Riccardo Frizza, with exceptional obbligato contributions from David Chan (violin) and Rafael Figueroa (cello). What sensuousness there is comes from the pit. So, no complaints about the music, but maybe this is a set to be relished with the vision turned off.