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Notes and Editorial Reviews
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Renée Fleming continues her reign as "Queen of the Met," starring in a bel canto rarity specially staged for her — a showcase for her extraordinary vocal virtuosity as well as for one of the most beautiful voices of our time. This 4-hour bel canto extravaganza is presented here on 2 DVDs.
In addition to the great prima donna title role, Armida uniquely features no fewer than six tenor roles, here led by the acclaimed young American tenor Lawrence Brownlee.
In May Zimmerman's magical new production, supported by striking sets, colorful costumes, and a fully-staged ballet, the "real world" of the Crusaders and the fantastical realm of Armida's enchanted
island are clearly contrasted.
R E V I E W:
ROSSINI Armida • Riccardo Frizza, cond; Renée Fleming ( Armida ); Lawrence Brownlee ( Rinaldo ); Barry Banks ( Gernando, Carlo ); Kobie van Rensburg ( Ubaldo ); Metropolitan Opera O & Ch • DECCA B0015226-09 (2 DVDs: 183:00 Text and Translation) Live: New York 5/1/2010
Would you like a one-word summary first? That word would be “fabulous.” The recorded competition is all in the form of audio-only; I am not aware of any other video of Armida . Among the audio recordings, Maria Callas’s 1952 performance in Florence is worth having because it is one of her most spectacular efforts, but between the congested and limited sound, some serious weaknesses in the rest of the cast, and the cuts, it is only valuable as a supplement and really only recommendable for Callas. Neither Cecilia Gasdia (Europa) nor Cristina Deutekom (Foyer) is in Fleming’s league. And to that you add the Met’s magical Mary Zimmerman production, and you have a total winner.
One of the challenges in staging Armida is the existence of six tenor roles, most of them quite difficult. The Met actually had six on stage for some performances, but on this DVD Barry Banks doubles up two of the roles. To have a Rossini tenor of that quality not even in the principal tenor role defines luxury casting. Lawrence Brownlee’s fast-rising star is clearly explained by his brilliant performance here—singing with accuracy, agility, gleaming top notes, and innate musicality. Kobie van Rensburg’s Ubaldo is not quite at their level, and he starts shakily but warms up, and more than holds his own in Rossini’s remarkable trio for three tenors in the final act—and what a scene that is! You’ll rarely hear anything like it in opera. All of the other roles are well cast; it is amazing today how we cannot cast one really great Forza or Aida , but Rossini singing is lightyears beyond where it was in the 1950s and 60s.
But Armida stands or falls on the shoulders of its soprano, and this one stands tall. Fleming might not have quite the astonishing range of color and inflection of a Callas, but anyone who thinks that she just stands and delivers pretty sounds needs to see and hear this performance. She sings with deep feeling, veering back and forth between terrorizing her enemies and tenderly singing of her love for Rinaldo. Her top notes ring out with authority and beauty, her coloratura is clean, and she is persuasive in all elements of this complex role. Her legato, whether in the lovely duets with Rinaldo or her big solo scenes, is evenly produced, and her sense of the shape of the music is natural and flowing. This is a towering performance.
Zimmerman’s production captures convincingly both the magical and the mundane elements of the story, and make dramatic truth out of what could, in the wrong hands, be a very silly piece of theater. The costumes and sets fit the concept perfectly—everything is in harmony here. And special kudos go to Teele Ude, a young dancer/mime who plays the silent role of the spirit of love, present through much of the opera. She performs with real panache and skill. The Met Orchestra is now one of the opera world’s greatest, and Riccardo Frizza conducts with just the right sense of pacing. The sound quality, heard in conventional LPCM stereo, is well balanced and natural (you can also choose DTS 5.1 surround sound). Gary Halvorson’s direction for the video is perfect—not too busy, not too static.
This was a Live from the Met transmission originally, so we are given interviews by Deborah Voigt; the most interesting is the brief one with Mary Zimmerman. For Rossini lovers, this would seem to be a must-have.
FANFARE: Henry Fogel
Works on This Recording
Armida by Gioachino Rossini
Renée Fleming (Soprano),
Lawrence Brownlee (Tenor),
Kobie van Rensburg (Baritone),
Barry Banks (Tenor),
John Osborn (Tenor)
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Written: 1817; Italy
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Supreme production of a rare opera July 1, 2013
By William H. (Courtenay , BC) See All My Reviews
"This production of Armida,one of Rossin's seldom produced operas, has just about everything-gorgeous singing for those bel canto devotees,a top orchestra with one of the most ingenious scores that Rossini ever wrote and simple but efective sets and excellent photography.What more can you say about Renee Fleming other than she is fabulous singer in a fabulous production.Not far behind are all those tenors that appear that are amongst the best there is today.Lawrence Brownlee is of course the big new sensation in bel canto with John Osborn and Barry Banks not far behind and the other singers are equally good.Fleming says that this is perhaps the most difficult role she has ever sang and one can believe that statement. There are critics that dont particular like this production but for me I think that this is one of the best DVD sets that is available today-in all respects.Five stars from me without question."