Muzică / Music
Rubrica / Box: nr. 1 Articole - Studii / Articles – Studies
2015.01.30. Vineri / Friday
Autor / Author:
Dr. Maria Curie-Skłodowska University / Faculty of Arts
Translator / Traducător:
Dr. State University of Florida
Armida is the beautiful sorceress who, with her magical trickery tries to prevent the Crusaders from conquering Jerusalem. With the help of magic she conquers the heart of Rinaldo, but falls hopelessly in love with him at the same time. She leads him off into her enchanted gardens, filled with sensual pleasures, but in the end the knight liberates himself from her spell and returns to the Christian camp. The story of Armida has inspired composers for 200 years, from Lully to Dvořák, and even Richard Wagner, who gave into her fatal charm while working on the libretto of Tannhäuser.
Sorceresses and witches are figures that have always inspired the collective imagination in a particular way—from ancient mythology, through legends and fairly tales, to high literature. Their defining characteristic is “altering reality in an irrational manner with the use of magic.” They were always depicted as enigmatic creatures, existing in various relationships with the supernatural world. They could be harmful to people, or even threaten their lives, punish them for disturbing the moral order (as often happens in works of the romantics), but they could also fulfill human dreams, desires, and petitions. They belonged to a mysterious and dangerous universum of nature, seemingly near human on the surface, yet unrecognizable and ambiguous in their being. Often these were wicked demonic beings, casting spells, taking part in satanic Sabbaths, but equally often they appeared at just the right moment to help out a protagonist—such as in the tale of Cinderella. The motif of her story is well-known to opera composers, however the librettists chose to modify the original text of Charles Perrault and the Grimm brothers: a sorceress (here called a fairy godmother) appears in Jules Massenet’s opera; Niccolò Isouard replaces her with a more “rational” Alidor; and in the most popular version by Gioachino Rossini all elements of the fantastic disappear in the name of reason of the Enlightenment.
Drawing a clear distinction in meaning between a sorceress and a witch appears to be very difficult. For the purpose of the present discussion we can make do with the assertion that sorceresses as a rule tended to be beautiful, young and alluring, while witches - old, ugly, and sinister. The nomenclature is then an element of emotional valorization.
The appearance of these characters in the literary tradition can be observed in mythology and related works. Already in the Odyssey the hero returning from the Trojan war to his home in Ithaca experienced the effects of the magical herbal potion that the sorceress Circe mixed into the food of his Greek warriors. They forgot about their homeland and she—with the use of a magic wand—turned them into swine. In addition to the supernatural elements, here we have the motif of the sorceress who, using temptations of the senses draws the hero away from the responsibilities and duties with which he is charged. This will be remembered by creators of subsequent versions of Armida, eventually Richard Wagner, who created the figure of Venus in Tannhäuser. Another example of a woman wielding magic and capable of controlling fate, while completely surrendering to human emotions of love, hate, and vengeance, was Medea. First she helped Jason in a favorable conclusion to his quest for the golden fleece and then, after being betrayed by her husband, carried out a ruthless revenge against him and his newly chosen woman. It is not surprising that her character interested composers such as Marc-Antoine Charpentier and Luigi Cherubini. According to Sébastien de Brossard, Charpentier’s Medea (1693) was “the most masterful of all [operas] that have been printed since the death of Mr. Lully.” For the composer and his librettist, Thomas Corneille, it was of great importance to depict the psychological complexity of Medea, since an unequivocally evil figure would make it difficult for the listeners to identify with her experiences, which was necessary. To this end, they delayed revealing Jason’s unfaithfulness and betrayal (we find out about it only in act III), furthermore displaying with particular intensity the negative characteristics of Medea’s antagonists. Charpentier dressed this opera in a fascinating soundscape, which virtually makes it into a textbook on the art of 17th century instrumentation. On the other hand Cherubini’s Medea - performed 104 years later - forms a bridge of sorts between Lully’s and Charpentier’s tragédie lyrique, the two Armida’s by Gluck and Haydn (more about those in a moment), and grand opéra, which will become the calling card of the French opera style in the XIX century. This is Cherubini’s most important work in the theatrical tradition and on recordings it appears in two versions: the authentic French, set to the libretto of François-Benoît Hoffmann, and a later, highly “Italianized” version (and not only because of the translation but also because of alterations to the score). Despite its merits, Medea had a poor reception in Paris in 1797, and a much better one a few years later in Berlin and Vienna, where it was sung in German. Then, endowed with recitatives from under the pen of Franz Paul Lachner, it progressively ventured farther away from the original, as it remains to this day since in the XXth century recitatives were translated into Italian and in this form Medea crystallized itself in history as one of the most famous roles of Maria Callas.
In medieval culture the figure of the sorceress was associated with chansons de geste, which were then called estoires (stories or tales), epic poetry of the Arthurian literary cycle. This [poetry] is permeated with le merveilleux breton, or Breton splendor. Morgana Le Fay, the stepsister of Arthur, is a sorceress brought up on the mysterious island Avalon; she is the female equivalent of Merlin and his power. In some accounts Morgana is identified as The Lady of the Lake, who, in turn, is often called Viviana, Nimue, or Niniana. Merlin falls in love with her and teaches her magic, but instead of returning his love, Vivian deceives him and using her feminine charms to trick him, traps him in a crystal grotto (according to a different version, he was imprisoned up in the air) in the Brocéliande forest. Vivian was also said to have brought up Lancelot on her island until he reached the age of 18. The sorceress Brisen, with her charms and magical herbal potion causes Lancelot to mistake Elaine of Corbenic for the one woman he loves, Guinevere, resulting in the conception of a son who would become Sir Galahad. Another medieval sorceress, Hellawes, lady of the castle Nigramous, lures Lancelot to her Chapel Perilous. Her efforts go unrewarded as Lancelot loves only Guinevere and he comes to the chapel only for healing talismans for an ailing knight. Her heart broken, Hellawes dies from sorrow.
The central figures of the Arthurian world continually fluctuate between reality and the world of magic, experiencing its various effects. Ragnelle, turned into an old hag, was able to help Gawain solve the riddle, under the condition that he marries her. When he kisses her on their wedding night, she turns back into a beautiful woman. These and similar stories became universally known not so much because of their actual authors—since it is not possible to establish who they were—but rather as a result of the efforts of various copyists and compilers, such as Geoffrey of Monmouth, Laymon, Chrétien de Troyes, and Wolfram von Eschenbach. In later periods they attracted the attention of Goethe (Faust as a successor to Merlin), Alfred Tennyson (the poem The Lady of Shalott), Mark Twain (the satirical novel A Yankee at the Court of King Arthur), Jean Cocteau (the play The Knights of the Round Table), Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner (the musical Camelot), and John Boorman (the film Excalibur), among others. Arthurian plot threads never lost their popularity, and the themes, character constructions and situations that appear in them also appeared in other works. The intertextuality and intersemiosis of these diverse mediums—literary, musical, theatrical, and film—is striking. The common source of these morphological elements, which can be found in poetry, prose, drama, opera, and film screenplays, is a magical fairy tale. Themes and fairy tale motifs reappear in works that are far apart from each other in terms of time and space. This has been emphasized by researchers from as different backgrounds as Vladimir Propp and Bruno Bettelheim.
It is hardly surprising that the figure of the sorceress crossed into the renaissance narrative. In Lodovico Ariosto’s poem The Frenzy of Orlando (Orlando furioso - first edition in 1516) the main character becomes a victim of the sorceress Alcina who, much like Circe, rules over a mysterious island of forgetting. Her irresistible beauty turns out to be the effect of magic, which falls away the moment that Ruggiero puts on a magical ring, destroying the spell. Soon after the birth of opera, this story became the inspiration for many composers. Francesca Caccini wrote La liberazione di Ruggiero dall'isola d'Alcina to the libretto of Fernando Saracinelli in 1625; Luigi Rossi wrote Il palazzo incantato (The Enchanted Palace, libretto by Giulio Rospigliosi) in 1642. To the producers at the time the tale of Alcina gave enough pretext for the impressive show of stage design, as described by Jagodyński in the introduction to his translation of Saracinelli’s libretto:
“…the great sea opened up full of towns, castles, and ships sailing from afar, and Neptunus arrived from this sea, carried on seals and surrounded by sea Nymphs, and that was the first scene. In the second, trees appeared on this sea, bending in time with the music and lamenting, pitying Ruggiero, and virtuous knighthood and young maidens, enchanted under those very trees. The third scene of the Theatrum was when the incensed Alcina turned the sea into fire and flame, and that water blazed, and standing in it she turned into a monster and flew away. The fourth part, after the watery and fiery sea vanished from beneath those lamenting trees, young men and maidens danced strange and beautiful dances, alone and in pairs, and when they ceased, only bare mountains and rocks remained. In the fifth and last variation even the mountains disappeared, and in their place was a field and delightful meadows. And there, on sumptuous and ornamented horses were twenty-four lads, who preferred the dance of horses and rode out to a larger field. There the others gazed upon them, until Melissa made her entrance, arriving at the field on centaurs, and there she delivered the Epilogue”.
In addition to delighting the audience, the operatic tale of Alcina and Ruggiero also had the goal of Moralitas (a moral teaching), which Jagodyński described in the following way:
“Ruggiero represents every young person, especially the well-born and brought up to high standards. Alcina and Fraucimer and the Mermaids, imply natural inclinations, incentives, opportunities for sensual mistakes and sheer bliss. Opposite of that, Melissa—who at first shows herself as the stern Atlas—represents virtue, Godly inspiration, good advice, and a is leader of the good. Lads and ladies, enchanted and enslaved, under the trees and mountains know affections which tangle fantasies and moods from which youth is not yet freed; only time and years, the mind and advice of the elders will help them to freedom”.
Rossi’s Enchanted Palace, despite stunning music, did not achieve the expected success in Rome. The opera, presented under the auspices of cardinal Antonio Barberini, was considered too long and tearful, the theatrical machinery by Andrea Sacchi kept breaking, and the soprano-castrato Marc’Antonio Pasqualini, performing the part of Bradamant, overpowered the other, equally well-known, singers. The libretto, written by Giulio Rospigliosi (the future Pope Clement IX), does not take into account the character of Alcina. Her function in the love triangle of Bradamante-Ruggiero-Angelica is taken over by the wizard Atlante, and the entire affair ends according to the principle of lieto fine or happy ending—the joining of separated pairs and destruction of the magical palace.
Jean-Baptiste Lully’s Roland (libretto by Philippe Quinault, 1685) came into being during high baroque. If one is to believe the dedication in the score, the choice of the subject from Orlando Furioso was prescribed by Ludwig XIV himself, who admired Ariosto’s poem. He had already seen it staged twenty years earlier, in the form of the ballet Alcina’s Palace. This was during the famous Versailles “festival” - as we would call it today - Pleasures of the Enchanted Island (Plaisirs de l’ile enchantée, 1664), a three day event, combining theater, music, singing, and ballet. Quinault, the author of the libretto, apparently assumed that the audience knew in great detail the literary prototype, and accelerated the action, omitting some of its links. In the name of a rational view of the world he also limited some of the magical aspects of the story: while Angelica has a magical ring, Démogorgon, the King of the Fairies, appears only in the prologue and, even then, exclusively for the purpose of singing the praises of Louis XIV. The opera was well received and was revived until 1755; the bass, Gabriel-Vincent Thévenard, performed as Roland for 30 years.
Two of Antonio Vivaldi’s operas made use of Ariosto’s themes: Orlando finto pazzo (libretto by Grazio Braccioli, 1714), and Orlando furioso (libretto by Braccioli, 1727), as well as three operas by Georg Friedrich Haendel: Orlando (libretto by Carlo Sigismondo Capece, 1733), Ariodante (libretto by Antonio Salvi, 1735), and Alcina (libretto by Antonio Fanzaglia, 1735). Haendel’s Orlando marked a return of sorts for the composer to the so-called “magical opera,” which brought him initial success in London more than ten years earlier (Rinaldo, Teseo, Amadigi). At the same time, it was the last role written by Haendel for the famous castrato Francesco Bernardi - known as Senesino - with whom the composer had quarreled irreversibly. Besides the main character’s fascinating mad scene (recitativo accompagnato, and arioso Ah, stigie larve - Vaghi pupille), we also have the sorcerer Zoroastro, who intervenes only in key moments and ensures the indispensable lieto fine. In the premiere performance Zoroastro was played by Antonio Montagnana; it was for him that the composer wrote the magnificent bass role with the arias Lascia Amore, e segui Marte and Sorge, infausta, which accompanied the magical incantations.
Two years later Haendel once again drew upon Ariosto, bringing out an episode from his poem that became the source of the libretto of Salvi’s Ginevra, principessa di Scozia (Ginevra, the Princess of Scotland). It was not met with much success, despite a well-written and clear libretto, a beautiful lament Scherzo infida, which is sung by the main character, and a very good cast in the roles of the lovers (Anna Strada del Pò and castrato Giovanni Carestini). A similar plot device was used by Shakespeare in Much Ado About Nothing - in Haendel’s opera, the betrayed betrothed returns from the spirit world and stands in battle to defend Ginevra’s honor. Ariodante was the first opera that Haendel composed for Covent Garden after leaving the theater on Haymarket. Three months after its premiere, Alcina appeared on stage, taking advantage of the asset that was the uncommon virtuosity of Strada and Carestini. The libretto was an adaptation of text that Fanzaglia wrote several years earlier for Riccardo Broschi (the brother of Farinelli). It is important to note that in this story we can find an entire catalog of ariostic devices: disguises and the confusion caused by mistaken identity, poor choices made in various areas, and finally—a wealthy arsenal of magic operations. Here we meet two sorceresses—the title-character Alcina and her sister Morgana, as well as the sorcerer Melisso who as the caretaker of Bradamante, (who is disguised as a man) ends up on the enchanted island. Alcina appears already in the ballet scene of the first act, with a lovesick and unconscious Ruggiero at her feet. Despite Brademante’s efforts, the knight is unable to recognize her and only Melisso - disguised as Atlante, Ruggiero’s old tutor - reminds him of his knightly virtue and duty. However, when Ruggiero rejects Alcina’s love, she promises revenge; the forces of good besiege the island, and the knight prepares for battle. Held back by Alcina and Morgana, Ruggiero smashes the urn holding Alcina’s power and thus frees all of those who had been unfortunate enough to fall under her spell and been turned into statues or animals. In this opera, the performer of the title role has plenty of opportunity to display her skill: two laments of the spurned Alcina (Ah! Mio cor and Mi restano le lagrime), a great scene of spells completing the second act (Ah! Ruggiero crudel!... Ombre pallide), and before that, a sensuous Di, cor mio. Carestini was able to showcase all of the assets of his voice, including virtuosic technique, in the aria Sta nell’Ircana, while the final trio Non è amor, nè gelosia was an encounter of partners worthy of each other.
It could be said that all operas referring to Ariosto’s themes found significant success, even Orlando Furioso of the now forgotten Giovanni Alberto Ristori had nearly 50 performances in Venice in the San Angelo theater in the fall of 1713. The following season Vivaldi found himself facing the problem of how to achieve a similar success, undertaking the same subject matter.
Vo’ far guerra e vincir voglio I want war and I want victory,
Collo sdegno chi m’offende Through fury at that which insults me,
Vendicar i torti miei. I want to avenge my injuries.
Per abbatter quell’orgoglio, To assuage this pride within,
Ch’il gran foco in sen m’accende Which alights the fire in my bosom,
Saran meco gli stessi dei. Only gods will stand beside me.
To conquer the evil spirits and to lead to the vital lieto fine, the commander of the crusaders turns to the Mago Cristiano for advice and receives a magic wand. With its assistance Goffredo and his knights conquer the monsters that guard the access to Armida’s castello incantate (enchanted castle). With a touch of the wand the castle disappears (it is, after all, only a satanic illusion). The sorceress attempts to stab her rival with a dagger but she is freed by Rinaldo. The wand of the Mago Cristiano is used once again, this time making the enchanted garden vanish, revealing Jerusalem in the distance. During the deciding battle between the Saracen army and the crusader forces, the pagans flee in panic while Argante and Armida are taken captive. Armida destroys her wand, renouncing the pagan beliefs: “il vostro rito io piglio”. The happy reunion of the two lovers and the unexpected act of humility on the part of the antagonists result in the final sextet of a moralistic flavor:
Vinto è sol della virtù Only the virtue of love
Degli affetti il reo livor. Can conquer ignoble envy.
E felice è sol qua giù Here, only he is happy
Chi dà meta a un vano cor. Who finds a purpose for the heart.
The conversion of Armida and Argante in the finale of the opera was true to the tastes and preferences of the period. Metastasio’s well-known libretto Betulia liberata (Liberation of Bethula), established in the history of music because of an opera by the young Mozart, was based on the story of Judith and Holofernes. Yet neither Hasse—the composer most devoted to Metastasio - nor Haendel - who knew the libretto and must have been drawn to the story of Judith—wrote music for this work. In Metastasio’s libretto Judith did not play a main role and neither did Holofernes, who does not even make an appearance on stage. What is most important here is the conversion of Achior, the prince of Ammonites.
Nearly 100 years after Lully, Quinault’s libretto - the last and best from under his pen -was used again by Christopher Willibald Gluck (1777). This was a daring move since somewhat earlier efforts of setting Quinault’s texts by Mondonville (Thésée - Theseus) and
La Borde (Amadis de Gaule) were met with failure. Gluck’s Armida held its place in the repertoire
of the Royal Academy of Music (the official name of the Paris opera at the
time) until 1837. Later this work was brought back to the stage by some of the
great masters of the baton: Tullio Serafin ( La Scala), Arturo Toscanini (Metropolitan Opera),
and recently Marc Minkowski (Versailles). Leaving behind all of the virtuosic
splendor characteristic of Neapolitan opera, Gluck put much emphasis on the
closest possible relationship between the word and its most appropriate musical
expression. He created a more “realistic” Armida,
with a well-outlined depiction of the title character, with lively and
compact action, giving the orchestra the role of commentator of events. The
perfection of Gluck’s music and its emotional saturation prompted reactions of
delight, which were directed towards this score in abundance in the XIX
Armida is the last opera of Joseph Haydn that was performed during his life at the Esterhazy palace theater, in 1784. It was also his only opera seria known by his contemporaries. The author of the text (unknown to us but likely to have been Nunziato Porta who worked on Haydn’s Orlando Paladino) compiled several older librettos devoted to the sorceress from Damascus and her unrequited love - and he had at his disposition significantly more examples than the previously mentioned works of Lully, Haendel, and Gluck. The storyline of Armida appealed to many other composers over the course of 100 years, such as Antonio Tozzi, Vincenzo Manfredini, Pasquale Anfossi, Niccolo Jommelli, Johann Gottlieb Naumann, Giovanni Gazzaniga, Antonio Salieri, and Luigi Cherubini.
Haydn’s librettist limited the number of characters to six. There is no Almirena and Rinaldo - in love with the sorceress - must choose between the love for a woman who fascinates him, and the duties of a Christian knight. Armida’s magic is powerful enough for Rinaldo to abandon the ranks of the crusaders in order to command the Saracen army. The plot of the opera begins with Rinaldo already in “sweet captivity,” promising to fight for the Saracen side (aria Vado a pugnar contento). The Christian army, led by Ubaldo, marches out to battle but is deterred by a storm, clearly of supernatural origins. Ubaldo finds Rinaldo and, after bitterly reproaching him, shows him a diamond shield (like in Quinault’s version) that he received from Peter the Hermit, which restores Rinaldo’s memory . The knight must choose between his love for a beautiful sorceress and fame (accompagnato Armida... Oh affanno! and the aria Cara, è vero, io son tiranno). Knightly duty wins out - “ma il dover, la gloria, il fato, la mia fede” (but the duty, fame, fate, my faith) - and Rinaldo and Ubaldo return to the Christian camp. Armida regains consciousness and upon seeing what has happened, despairs having lost her lover (accompagnato Barbaro! E ardisci ancor and the virtuosic aria Odio, furor, dispetto). In a moment she will disturb Rinaldo’s jubilant welcome in the camp by throwing herself at his feet (trio Partirò, mia pensa, ingrato).
Without a doubt, act III is the most interesting. Rinaldo makes his way through Armida’s enchanted forest, singing the impressive accompagnato Questo dunque è la selva. He wants to conquer the pagan kingdom and in order to do this, needs a branch of the magical myrtle (il mirto fatal). Before he is able to fulfill his intentions, he is surrounded by nymphs and falls under the spell of the enchanted forest. Among the nymphs is Zelmira, the daughter of the Egyptian sultan (aria Torna pure il caro bene). Resistant to witchcraft, Rinaldo raises his sword to cut off the branch and at that point Armida appears. Once again she begs for mercy (aria Ah, non ferir); she asks Rinaldo to destroy the entire forest but to spare the myrtle. A moment of hesitation on the part of the hero is taken advantage of by Furies, who fly out of the myrtle bush and block his path. After the next accompagnato for two voices, Rinaldo sings the aria Dei pietosi. He regains his strength, shakes of all doubt, and tears out the myrtle bush along with its roots. The enchanted kingdom vanishes and Armida, Zelmira, and the Saracen king Idreno beg Rinaldo for mercy. The final words of the knight: Armida, addio, vita mia, addio (Armida, farewell, my life, farewell) and her response: Mostro, di crudeltà̀! (Cruel monster!) do not leave any illusions as to the future. Armida escapes on the indispensable carro infernale, an infernal chariot.
Haydn endowed his opera with numerous accompagnato recitatives, which form the framework of the whole; they precede the carefully arranged arias which are full of emotional expression. His Armida is relatively short and compact when it comes thematic matter, showy and full of invention for the singers.
The year 1817 was one of the most successful for Gioachino Rossini, the musical pride of Italy and the great master of the operatic stage. That year he wrote his last opera buffa -
La Cenerentola (Cinderella) for the Roman Teatro Valle -
and soon after, La gazza ladra (The Thieving Magpie), for the Milanese La Scala, an opera which was
seen by the librettist as a dramatic tale with a cheerful ending (in those days
it was described as an opera semiseria).
After its premiere, on May 31,
a new task awaited Rossini. The famous impresario Domenico
Barbaja commissioned Armida from him,
selecting the date of the premiere in the Fall of the same year. Thanks to the
collaboration with Barbaja, who promoted great singers such as Rubini and
Nourrit, the doors to the prestigious Neapolitan Teatro di San Carlo were
opened wide for Rossini. An innate talent, a rare ability to compose very
quickly, and skillful transfer of music from one opera to another made it
possible for Barbaja to always be able to count on Rossini to deliver. The
libretto was ready. It was drawn up by Giovanni Federico Schmidt—a mediocre
writer who was completely unable to utilize any of the theatrical elements of
the storyline and did not think to borrow this or that from his predecessors.
The opera prepared by Rossini was designated for the opening of the San Carlo theater - which was rebuilt after a fire - it was supposed to impress with its music as well as its staging. Indeed, Armida’s premiere marked its place in history as a particular achievement of theatrical machinery and contemporary stage design of the time. The heroine’s palace and enchanted garden, her dragon-drawn chariot which, cast under a spell, turns into a huge bed of flowers, demons, nymphs, fireworks—everything came together as a rich setting for the spectacle. Its only competition could have been the future ideas of the Paris opera designers and decorators. To this entire endeavor it is necessary to add Isabella Colbran - the Spanish coloratura soprano and one of the most admired singers in this era of big voices (she was soon to marry Rossini) - and her four accompanying tenors, whose parts required uncommon vocal skills. Despite all of these splendors, the Neapolitan audience gave Armida a chilly reception, accusing it of German influence.
The poet Giovanni Schmidt, in creating a static libretto without much dramaturgy and with a slow development of plot and action, did not make Rossini’s job any easier. Armida’s deceit - along with her uncle Hidraot she appeared in the Crusaders’ camp, disguised as allegedly the legitimate ruler of Damascus - is not particularly ingenious since the leader of knights, Goffredo, had no intentions of getting involved in conflicts between the Saracens. A side tangent of envy between the Christian commanders (Gernando - Rinaldo) was needed by the librettist probably only to justify Rinaldo’s escape with Armida. Already earlier they were joined by some kind of emotions when the sorceress saved the knight during battle; now these feelings were expressed in a duet Amor, possente nome. The entire act II is used to present Armida’s kingdom. The wizard Astarotte calls on all of the powers that serve Armida; then she arrives in her chariot and opens her enchanted garden to Rinaldo - Kingdom of Love (D’amore al dolce impero). In act III, two Frankish knights (Ubaldo, and Carlo) appear, equipped with the indispensable—since the days of Haendel - magic wand, to free Rinaldo from Armida’s magic. The wand allows them to maintain unshakable constancy in light of the procession of lustful nymphs and indifference to the promises being exchanged by the lovers (duet Soavi catene). When Armida leaves, the two companions pass Rinaldo the diamond shield in which he can see his pitiful reflection, unworthy of a true knight. Thanks to God’s grace he regains his strength and his lost knightly virtue. In despair, Armida tries to stop him from leaving but her words fall on deaf ears; finally she begs for him to take her life. This - of course - is just another opportunity for a vocal showcase - the final Se al mio crudel tormento, after which the sorceress destroys her magical palace and flies away on her chariot, promising revenge. However, the public did not like this ending, expecting a great aria di bravura from the heroine, but instead having to listen to a chorus of evil spirits, provoked into pursuit of Rinaldo.
The only lively figure in this not particularly complicated puzzle is Armida. It is not surprising, since Rossini was able to give this part to the great Isabella Colbran. The entire title role of the heroine is an unending showcase of the soprano voice. Central to this showcase is the rondo with variations D’amore al dolce impero, full of unimaginable technical difficulties and expressive details that Rossini wrote with a clear conviction that his beloved lady would be able to sing. Such an extraordinary part requires a worthy partner, with whom Armida performs three great love duets. Also, the supporting tenor roles belong to the responsible—it is enough to listen to the trio sung by Rinaldo, Ubaldo and Carlo in act III - In quale aspetto. The accusations expressed by the public at the premiere, suspicious of “porcheria tedesca” (German crap) stemmed from the orchestra score, which was considered as too pompous and blamed for “overpowering” the voices. Yet, it should be said fairly that the orchestral material (as well as some of the choral fragments) only validates Rossini’s skill and imagination with tone colors and harmony. Aside from that, however, in the output of the “Swan of Pesaro,” Armida remains that which it is in essence—a tribute to the greatness of the human voice.
Antonin Dvořák was the last eminent composer who was interested in this subject that had been exploited for two centuries. The absence of good librettos hindered him from a more systematic output of operatic compositions. The other factor complicating his work in this area was the desire to liberate himself from nationalistic themes and subject matter and the quest for more universal themes. The Armida libretto found itself in Dvořák’s hands in 1902 - the work of Jaroslav Vrchlický who had translated Gerusalemme liberata into Czech, and eventually delivered the text of the Saint Ludmila oratorio to Rusalka’s composer. Before Dvořák , Vrchlický tried to interest several other composers in his Armida: Karel Kovarovic, Zdenek Fibich, and Karel Bendl. The opera was completed in August of 1903 but suffered a painful defeat in Prague’s National Theater and since that time the Czech stage has not granted it much attention.
The plot unfolds in Damascus, where King Hidraot is given the news about the approaching Christian army. Prince Ismen, who makes use of magic on an everyday basis, advises the king to allow his opponent near the city gates and then to send to him Armida, famous for her beauty and magic. Lost in dreams of love, the princess at first refuses, but Ismen, who is secretly in love with her and jealous, paints for her an image of the enemy army, where Armida notices the object of her love - Rinaldo. The brave warrior, on the other hand, is haunted by the vision of a beautiful woman. Armida appears in the crusader camp and requests an audience with Goffredo (act II). Peter the hermit warns him about this particular woman but Rinaldo recognizes in her the mysterious beauty from his visions. During her audience, Armida promises to help in the battle with Hidraot because - she claims - he overthrew her father, snatching away his throne (Rossini’s librettist had the same idea). Goffredo’s hesitation distracts Rinaldo, who is ready and willing to come to the aid of the princess. Their feelings for each other develop rapidly, despite the efforts of Peter the Hermit to interfere. However, it is then that Ismen appears on a magical chariot and kidnaps the lovers. In act III we have Armida’s requisite gardens, where the lovers surrender to sensual pleasures under the watchful eye of the jealous Ismen, disguised as a hunchbacked old man. The prince demands the death of his rival, however the princess refuses in the name of love. Ismen destroys Armida’s palace which, with the help of her magic, she immediately rebuilds. Then she turns over the shield of St. Michael—which is hidden in the castle—to the Frankish knights, Sven and Ubaldo. We are already familiar with the shield’s properties from earlier works dealing with the story of Armida—the shield makes it possible to free Rinaldo from the supernatural powers and tear him from the grasp of the sorceress. Yet another demolition of the castle by Ismen is supposed to indicate the end of their love. In act IV the hero regains his awareness and his sense of the chivalrous mission; he also becomes aware of his recent downfall, while Peter the Hermit promises him absolution. With St. Michael’s shield in hand, Rinaldo sets off into battle and fights a duel with a mysterious knight in black armor. This is Armida in disguise but the young man does not know it and kills his beloved. Yet, before the beautiful Saracen woman dies, Rinaldo will manage to baptize her. The idea of the final conversion was thought of by Aaron Hill and Giacomo Rossi, the authors of the libretto, which was used by Haendel. Vrchlický borrowed this ending not from them, but rather took it from a different fragment of Gerusalemme liberata. It is an episode of Canto XII, preserved in the history of music as a dramatic madrigal of Monteverdi—Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda.
Dvořák’s music is inconsistent: many fragments of the score give evidence to his outstanding talent, but there are also borrowings from other composers, marking the line of development of opera in the XIX century—especially Meyerbeer and Wagner. Dvořák himself admitted to the relationship and similarity between his magic scene (act III) and Venus’s cave in Tannhäuser. The weakness of the libretto does not make the composer’s task any easier. At the beginning Rinaldo is a bleak figure, lacking an inner energy; he takes on heroic characteristics only in the final act. The title heroine’s character was constructed much more skillfully, equipped with a rich and diverse range of emotions. For her, Dvořák wrote a very brilliant and impressive part, however difficult and requiring a very big voice.
Armida enticed composers for about two centuries. This happened independently of the evolution that opera went through from the time of Monteverdi to the end of the XIX century, or any significant stylistic differences that separated Lully’s tragédie lyrique from Italian operas written at the same time. The origin of the sorceress figure—with its extensive tradition in mythology, folklore, and Italian and popular literature—extends back to one of the most important works of the modern epic. Already at the turning point between the Age Enlightenment and the Romantic Era, Tasso’s poem was an element of lively and invariably inspiring literary tradition. There is no doubt that the audiences in private and public theaters, from London to Vienna, were familiar with the tale of the knight and the beautiful sorceress, including ending. The romantic thread, characteristic of opera librettos, had not only the lieto fine that was required until the end of the XVIII century, but also a moralizing solution. Rinaldo is faced with making a necessary choice between amore profano (specifically—sensual pleasures) and virtue and responsibility towards God and an earthly sovereign. Naturally, he chooses knightly duty (in Haendel’s version, this includes an addition of a true—not manipulated by magic—love for Almirena), and making the right decision is helped by his own conscience, as well as objects meant to fend off magic (the wand, the diamond shield). Independent of the frequent inclination of librettists to complicate events, the plot of subsequent versions of Armida is usually simple and engages a small number of characters (for example, Haydn only has six). The focus is on Armida and Rinaldo, while the other characters play secondary roles, like knights (usually there are two), who must find the imprisoned Rinaldo, restore the clarity of his thinking, and free him from the sorceress’s influence. The introduction of Almirena (Haendel) serves to complicate the plot, as she appears in a dual role—the true love of Rinaldo, as well as the object of Argante’s advances. In the end, chivalrous virtue triumphs, the Christian army defeats the Saracens, Rinaldo regains his senses, and the defeated and abandoned Armida flies away in a winged chariot (in two previously discussed instances, she repents and accepts true faith).
Regardless of this, there are two main reasons why Armida has remained on the opera stage so long. The first is the fantasy, along with battle scenes and the spirit of romance, that permeates the plot and the action; second—the irresistible singing and music. From its beginnings, opera was first and foremost a showcase for “stage architects,” then marvelously trained castrati and great prima donnas, and eventually a combination of staging, production design, directing, special effects, vocal virtuosity, and orchestration. Even in the XIX century opera made use of theatrical machinery inherited from the baroque era and enriched by the Parisian designers during the times of Napoleon and the Restoration. Quite a lot is known about this, as opera performances in the French capital were diligently reviewed in much detail, newspapers and journals printed pictures showing the decorations and “machines,” and many writers mention it. These performances were also diligently watched by the Polish romantics, leaving behind many detailed and competent accounts and descriptions.
The second reason is the high level of standards and expectations that the composers mentioned here demanded from the performers of their operas, especially the women taking on the title role. The great voices that Haendel or Rossini had at their disposal are a rarity today.
It is not without reason that after the rejection of the belcanto and grand opéra aesthetics, the interest in the Armida theme declined. Although the unrestricted flight of imagination of today’s directors allows us to suppose that one day we will see this story on a stage absent of any decoration, or presented within the context of a large corporation, nevertheless the story of the “love spells” of the captivating Saracen beauty has inseparably fused with the historical forms of opera theater.
 Praktyczny słownik współczesnej polszczyzny (A Practical Dictionary of Contemporary Polish), ed. H. Zgółkowa, Poznań 1996, v. 7, p. 392.
 See P. Kamiński, Tysiąc i jedna opera (One Thousand and One Operas), Kraków 2008, vol. 1, p. 239.
 Lachner’s recitatives were also translated into French when in the 80’s the part of Medea was sung at the Paris Opera by Shirley Verrett.
 Marion Zimmer Bradley’s contemporary novel The Mists of Avalon (Mgły Avalonu, Polish ed.,
2001) focuses on the character of Morgana Poznań La Fay and references Arthurian themes.
existed, as found by the XII-century historian Wace. See forest
Opowieści Okrągłego Stołu (Tales of the Round Table), transl. K. Dolatowska and T. Komendant, Warszawa 1987, p. 17.
 The product of this “unwanted” union was Galahad, who ultimately finds the Holy Grail.
 Geoffrey of Monmouth, XII-century bishop of St. Asaph, was the author of Historia Regum Britanniae, a work in which he devoted much space to Arthurian themes. Laghamon, a poet living in the XII/XIII century, wrote the first English language poem about Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Chrétien de Troyes, a XII-century trouvére, is credited with the most well-known versions of the Arthurian legends. Wolfram von Eschenbach was the creator of the epic about Parsifal.
 See V. Propp, Morfologia bajki (Morphology of the folktale), transl. Wiesława Wojtyga-Zagórska, Warsaw, 1976; V. Propp, Historyczne korzenie bajki magicznej (Historical Roots of Fairy Tales), transl. Jacek Chmielewski, Warsaw, 2003; B. Bettelheim, Cudowne i pożyteczne. O znaczeniach i wartościach baśni (The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales), transl. D. Danek, Warsaw, 1997.
 La liberazione di Ruggiero was performed in 1625 at the Medici court in
in honor of the visiting prince Władysława Waza (later the Polish king
Władysława IV), to whom it was dedicated. The Polish-language translation of
the text, done by Stanisław Serafin Jagodyński, titled Wybawienie Ruggiera z wyspy Alcyny, was published in Kraków w 1628
r. See J. Żurawska, Pod maską Alcyny,
Napoli, 1996. Florence
 S. Jagodyński, Wybawienie Ruggiera z wyspy Alcyny (The Liberation of Ruggiero from the
), cited in
J. Żurawska, op. cit., pp. 78-79. island
 S. Jagodyński, Wybawienie Ruggiera z wyspy Alcyny (The Liberation of Ruggiero from the
), cited in
J. Żurawska, op. cit., p. 79. island
 See P. Kamiński, op. cit,. vol. 1, p. 828.
 See P. Ryom, Verzeichnis der Werke Antonio Vivaldis, Leipzig 1974, p. 128; M. Talbot, Vivaldi, transl. H. Dunicz-Niwińska, Kraków 1988, passim.
 M. Talbot, op. cit, p. 30.
 T. Tasso, Gofred abo Jeruzalem wyzwolona (Gerusalemme Liberata), transl. P. Kochanowski, ed. R. Pollak, Wrocław, 1951, BN II 4, pp. 112-113. English translation by J. Tusiani, Cranbury, 1970, p. 100.
 T. Tasso, op. cit., p. 341. English translation by J. Tusiani, Cranbury, 1970, p. 334.
 T. Tasso, op. cit., p. 343.
Harnoncourt, Muzyka mową
dźwięków (Baroque Music Today: Music
As Speech: Ways to a New Understanding of Music), transl. M. Czajka, Warszawa 1995, chapter: Styl włoski i styl francuski.
 N. Harnoncourt, op. cit., pp. 183-184.
 See Bernd Baselt, Händel-Handbuch. Thematisch-systematisches Verzeichnis, Bd. 2: Oratorische Werke, Vokale Kammermusik,
1984, p. 33, 36. Leipzig
 G.F. Haendel, op. cit., act II, scene 8, no. 27.
 G.F. Haendel, op. cit., act III, scene 13, no. 40.
 See A. Einstein, Mozart – człowiek i dzieło (Mozart—His Character, His Work), transl. A. Rieger, Kraków 1983, pp. 389-391.
 Peter from
known as Peter the Hermit, wandering monk and priest, leader of the so-called
People’s Crusade in 1096 r. See S. Runciman, Dzieje wypraw krzyżowych (A
History of the Crusades), transl. J. Schwakopf, Warszawa 1987, vol. 1, pp. 119-130. Amiens
 See A. Aleksandrowicz, Izabela Czartoryska – polskość i europejskość (Izabela Czartoryska: Polishness and Europeaness), Lublin 1998.
 I wrote about this more extensively in: S. Münch, Co to jest grand opera (What is Grand Opera), „Pamiętnik Teatralny” 1983, z. 3, pp. 167-187.
 J. Moynet, L’Envers du theatre, machines et decorations, Paris, 1875; M.A. Allevy-Viala, Inscenizacja romantyczna we Francji, Warszawa 1958.