29 February 2024

Analysing ‘Armida’

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By Vicki Ann Cremona – Chair of the School of Performing Arts at the University of Malta

Gioacchino Rossini’s Armida, the third opera composed for the Teatro San Carlo, is little known and rarely performed. It is a challenging piece to stage; the soprano, holding the sole female part, has to do justice to the seductiveness of the music and the demanding coloratura which Rossini wrote to draw attention to the vocal abilities of his Spanish wife, Isabella Colbran. The male parts include six tenors, a rarity in itself. The story is one of evil magic and enchantment, and in the grand finale, Armida, like the Greek heroine Medea, flies off, crying revenge.

The Teatru Manoel production also poses a challenge. The director, Paul Carr, has opted to present a contemporary interpretation of the story; the role of the conductor, Davide Levi, is to make the audience feel the force and sensuality of Rossini’s music. The elimination of the overly long ballet in Act II (a convention at the time for grand operas), has allowed choreographer Dorian Mallia to create a consistent dance presence on stage, using contemporary movement to highlight the passion the two lovers feel for each other. Through his original costumes, Luke Azzopardi has contributed to placing the story in a twenty-first century setting, with subtle references to costumes in the time of the Crusaders.

The production of Armida has given rise to another challenge. For the first time, Teatru Manoel is collaborating with the School of Performing Arts of the University of Malta to produce an informative booklet that throws light on different aspects of the opera. The five contributions have been written by students in theatre, music and dance, and provide an insightful look into the interdisciplinary aspects of the alluring work. Patrons taking away this booklet will be able to remember the work as they enjoy the insights provided by the short articles.

It is anticipated that this work will lead to further close collaboration between the theatre and the University of Malta.

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