Rossini's rarely performed Armida has its Met premiere on April 12 with a gala performance of Mary Zimmerman's new production. Renowned soprano Renée Fleming stars as the mythological sorceress, Armida, one of the greatest virtuoso roles from the bel canto repertory. Fleming is joined by Lawrence Brownlee, who sings Armida's chief love interest, Rinaldo, and five more tenors in the roles of the crusader knights. José Manuel Zapata portrays Rinaldo's deadly rival Gernando. John Osborn sings Goffredo, and Barry Banks, Kobie van Rensburg, and Yegishe Manucharyan are the knights Carlo, Ubaldo, and Eustazio, respectively. Riccardo Frizza conducts. Sets and costumes are by Richard Hudson, and the lighting is by Brian MacDevitt. Graciela Daniele is the choreographer, in her Met debut, and Daniel Pelzig is the assistant choreographer. Performances run through May 12. The matinee on May 1 will be seen worldwide as part of The Met: Live in HD series.
"We are staging this highly challenging opera expressly for Renée Fleming, who has the extraordinarily rare artistic qualities - both vocally and dramatically - to meet the requirements of such a demanding work," said Peter Gelb, the Met's general manager.
Having triumphed as Armida at the Rossini Festival in Pesaro earlier in her career, Fleming again welcomes the opportunity to perform this rare work. "It is a tale of feminine seduction," Fleming said. "And that, in fact, is Armida's real power, with a dark and desperate side. When Armida is herself undone by love, she has our complete sympathy." The vivid set design features such flourishes as giant birds and a field of red poppies. "We're trying to be deliberately theatrical and to use simple methods of old-time theater in the way the opera instructs," commentEd Zimmerman. "I think all the theatrical enchantment that the libretto and score call for-the power of change and transformation-is a mirror of the sorceress's power. It's saturated with that."
Gioachino Rossini's Armida is based on 16th-century Italian poet Torquato Tasso's epic Gerusalemme Liberata ("Jerusalem Delivered"), a tale of the scorned seductress that has inspired more than 100 operas and ballets, including Handel's Rinaldo and Haydn's Armida. Rossini's opera is particularly noted for its six tenor roles, which were shared by four singers for the opera's 1817 premiere at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples. (At the Met, six different tenors will sing these roles.) Armida garnered popular attention when Maria Callas sang the title role in Florence in 1952. Next season, most cast members will return in the revival of Armida. The opera's Met premiere production is a gift of the Sybil B. Harrington Endowment Fund. Yves Saint Laurent sponsors the gala premiere benefit for Armida.
About the Performers
With the title role of Armida, American soprano Renée Fleming takes on a Rossini opera for the first time in her Met career. Earlier this season, Fleming starred in the role of the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier, hailed by the New York Times as a "vocally captivating performance (that) was daringly subtle." Last season, Fleming was the first woman to headline an Opening Night Gala at the Met, singing in staged scenes from La Traviata, Manon, and Capriccio. She also sang the title roles in a new production of Massenet's Thaïs and in a revival of Dvo?ak's Rusalka. Both the Opening Night Gala and Thaïs were shown live in HD. Fleming, who made her Met debut in 1991 as Countess Almaviva in Le Nozze di Figaro, portrayed Rosina in the world premiere of Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles later that year, and has appeared in three other Met premieres: in the title role of Floyd's Susannah (1999), as Imogene in Bellini's Il Pirata (2002), and in the title role of Handel's Rodelinda (2004). Her numerous other roles at the Met include Tatiana in Eugene Onegin, which was transmitted live in HD (2007); Donna Anna in Don Giovanni; Pamina in Die Zauberflöte; Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte; Desdemona in Otello; the Countess Almaviva in Le Nozze di Figaro; the title role in Arabella; Marguerite in Faust; and Ellen Orford in Peter Grimes. Fleming is also familiar to audiences as the host of many Live in HD transmissions, as well as the 2009 documentary film about the Met's National Council Auditions, The Audition. This season, she hosts HD transmissions of Aida, Carmen, Simon Boccanegra, and Hamlet. Fleming has also frequently appeared in concerts with the MET Orchestra both in New York and on tour.
Bel canto specialist Lawrence Brownlee, who made his company debut in 2007 as Count Almaviva in IL Barbiere di Siviglia, adds the role of Rinaldo to his Met repertoire. "His lyric voice falls on the ear with unusual sweetness," the Associated Press critic wrote of the tenor's performance. "He has mastered the bel canto technique of fast runs, trills and ornamentation that Rossini requires, and stopped the show with his acrobatics." Earlier this season, Brownlee performed Tonio in La Fille du Régiment, and last season the American tenor played Prince Ramiro opposite El?na Garan?a in La Cenerentola, seen live in HD. Brownlee, a 2001 winner of the National Council Auditions, performs with major companies in a repertoire that includes not just Almaviva (San Diego Opera, Vienna State Opera) and Ramiro (Houston Grand Opera, La Scala), but also Narciso in Il Turco in Italia (Deutsche Oper, Berlin), and Arturo in I Puritani (Seattle Opera).
John Osborn, a 1994 winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, is a graduate of the Met's Lindemann Young Artist Development Program. He made his 1996 Met debut as a Jew in Salome, appeared as Sergio in a new production of Fedora the same year, and has also performed Maintop in Billy Budd, Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni, and Count Almaviva in IL Barbiere di Siviglia. Elsewhere this season Osborn made his Houston Grand Opera debut as Nemorino in L'Elisir d'Amore, and performs Léopold in La Juive (Netherlands Opera), Don Ramiro in La Cenerentola (Zurich Opera), and Lindoro in L'Italiana in Algeri (Maggio Musicale, Florence).
José Manuel Zapata, who sings Gernando, made his Met debut in 2008 as Count Almaviva in IL Barbiere di Siviglia. Recent engagements for the Spanish tenor include Dorvil in La Scala di Seta (Pesaro's Rossini Theater), Argirio in a new production of Tancredi (Regio, Turin), and Don Igi el Indiano in La Cabeza del Bautista (Barcelona's Liceu). Zapata made his operatic debut in 2001 as Albazar in Il Turco in Italia, and has performed leading parts at the Teatre Liceu in Barcelona, the Teatro Real in Madrid, the Deutsche Oper Berlin, the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, the National Theatre in Warsaw, and the prestigious Rossini Festival in Pesaro, Italy.
The role of Carlo marks Barry Banks's third Met role debut this season, following Count Almaviva in IL Barbiere di Siviglia (a role the British tenor recently reprised in a last-minute substitution), and the Italian Singer in Der Rosenkavalier. Banks made his Met debut as Flute in the 1996 Met premiere of A Midsummer Night's Dream, and his varied Met repertoire also includes Pedrillo in Die Entführung aus dem Serail, the Fisherman in Le Rossignol, the Shepherd in Oedipus Rex, Lindoro in L'Italiana in Algeri, Prince Ramiro in La Cenerentola, and Tonio in La Fille du Régiment. In 2006, Banks appeared as Ernesto in the new production of Don Pasquale. Last season, he appeared as Elvino in La Sonnambula, and Nemorino in L'Elisir d'Amore.
Kobie van Rensburg makes his Met role debut as Ubaldo. Van Rensburg made his Met debut as Grimoaldo in the company premiere of Rodelinda, and has also performed the title role in Mozart's Idomeneo. The South African tenor has a wide repertoire that encompasses Mozart, Wagner, Johann Strauss, and Verdi. His recent engagements include Eumete in Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria (Teatro Real, Madrid), Pane in Calisto (Bavarian State Opera), and Loge in Der Ring des Nibelungen (Seattle Opera).
Riccardo Frizza made his Met debut last season conducting Rigoletto, drawing performances from the Met orchestra that the New York Times described as "lively and full-bodied." Frizza returned to the Met podium later in the season to conduct Il Trovatore. Next season he will again conduct Armida in the production's revival. From 1994 to 2000, Frizza was a conductor-in-residence with the Symphonic Orchestra of Brescia. Frizza has worked with major orchestras and opera companies around the world. His opera appearances include Il Turco in Italia with the Berlin State Opera, La Fille du Régiment with Houston Grand Opera, Aida with the Seattle Opera, La Cenerentola with the Bavarian State Opera, Luisa Miller with the Leipzig Opera, and L'Italiana in Algeri with the Washington National Opera.
About the Production Team
Mary Zimmerman, who calls Armida "a buried treasure, a box of jewels," returns to the Met for her third new production of a bel canto opera in as many seasons. Zimmerman made her debut with the 2007 season-opening production of her Lucia di Lammermoor and followed with La Sonnambula last season, both starring Natalie Dessay and seen worldwide live in HD. Zimmerman is the Manilow Resident Director of the Goodman Theatre and a member of Lookingglass Theatre Company, both in Chicago. She is also an artistic associate of the Seattle Repertory Theatre and a professor of performance studies at Northwestern University. Zimmerman's other opera productions include Philip Glass's Akhnaten (seen in Strasbourg and at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, where she is an Artistic Associate), the 2002 world premiere of Philip Glass's Galileo Galilei, for which she also co-wrote the libretto (Goodman Theatre, London's Barbican Centre, Brooklyn Academy Of Music), and Mozart's Die Zauberflöte (Chicago Opera Theatre). In 2002, Zimmerman received a Tony Award for Best Direction for her original adaptation of Ovid's Metamorphoses, and in 1998 she won the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship. A prolific adaptor-director, Zimmerman's theatrical works include The Odyssey, Arabian Nights, and The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, which have been seen in theaters throughout the country and abroad. Zimmerman's production of Armida will return to the Met in the 2010-11 season.
Set and costume designer Richard Hudson made his Met debut with designs for Elijah Moshinsky's new production of Samson et Dalila in 1998. The Zimbabwe-born award winner-he took home the Tony for his stage design for The Lion King -works worldwide in theater, dance, and opera for such companies as Britain's Old Vic and Royal Shakespeare Company, La Scala, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, and the Vienna State Opera.