A marriage of dynamic technique and dramatic storytelling

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Article by Margherita Borg Buhagiar – Student, School of Performing Arts

‘The early years of opera encompassed a dizzying range of what we might today call subgenres, from the opera scenica to the attione in musica to the festa teatrale. But opera’s most important precursor is generally understood to be the intermedi, short but spectacular displays of song and dance […]’[1]

During the mid-seventeenth century, the incorporation of ballet into opera emerged as Italian operas were being introduced to the French courts under the patronage of King Louis XIV. The Ballet de Cour was an inherently political art form, rich in mythological narratives. These lavish productions encompassed various artistic elements such as dance, spoken word, music, and pantomime. Initially, these ballets were exclusively performed by court members, but it was not until the latter part of the seventeenth century that ballet and opera were acknowledged as distinct art forms and started to be showcased in public theatres with professional performers.

Premiered in 1817 at the Teatro San Carlo, in Naples, Italy, Armida is considered one of Rossini’s most ambitious and innovative works, combining the dramatic power of opera with the expressive beauty of dance. Set during the Crusades, the opera follows the journey of two Christian knights, Rinaldo and Goffredo, as they are lured into Armida’s magical realm.

Its early nineteenth-century debut placed Armida within the realm of imagination. Throughout the Romantic era, artists looked to exploring ‘the unknown’. They developed their stories around the themes of love, spirits, the forces of nature and death. Armida indeed ‘[….] include[s] sorcery and supernatural occurrences, [providing] forms of theatrical fiction […]’[2].

For the opera’s premiere, Rossini collaborated with the renowned choreographer and dancer Jean-Baptiste Blache to create ballet sequences that enhanced the emotional depth and narrative of the opera and elevated its artistic impact. These ballet sequences in Armida are an integral part of the story, portraying the inner conflicts and desires of the characters through movement. Armida herself is often accompanied by a corps de ballet, highlighting her supernatural powers and seductive allure. The ballet sequences add an ethereal and magical element to the opera, transporting the audience into Armida‘s mystical world.

One of the most iconic moments in the opera is the ballet sequence known as “The Enchanted Gardens”. In this scene, Armida beguiles the knights, luring them into a dreamlike realm; a hideous forest that has been deceptively transformed into a palace with lush gardens and exotic creatures. The dancers, playing the role of nymphs, portray the captivating beauty of this magical atmosphere through graceful movements, intricate choreography, and elaborate costumes.

Although during the Romantic period, ballet was the prevalent style for Armida, in this production of Rossini’s opera, Moveo Dance Company’s choreographer Dorian Mallia has chosen a more contemporary approach, directing the dancers in such a way as to ‘enhance the characters’ emotions and feelings’. The dancers act as an extension of the two main characters, Armida and Rinaldo, and shift between realms of fantasy and the ‘realistic’. The choreography is aimed to transport the audience into a world of fantasy and seduction while underscoring the tension and emotions of the story. The contemporary style sets out to capture the essence of the Romantic ideals.

Armida can be argued to be a Gesamtkunstwerk – a total work of art. To encapsulate the true Romantic beauty of this Opera, neither art form can exist without the other – the script is the thought, the singing transmits the emotion, and the dance and design embellish the story through movement and setting. It is a true marriage of the arts where music, singing, acting, dance and design come together to create a multidimensional and immersive experience for the audience.


Connery, Majel & James Steichen. 2015. ‘Between Opera and Dance’. The Opera Quarterly 31 (3): 151–154 (Oxford: Oxford University Press)

Durante, Viviana. 2019. Ballet: The Definitive Illustrated Story. (London: DK Publishing)

Osborne, Richard. 2007. Rossini. (Oxford: Oxford University Press)

Weinstock, Herbert. 1968. Rossini. A Biography. (Oxford: Oxford University Press)

[1] Connery & Steichen 2015: 151–154.

[2] Weinstock1968: 80.

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