Paul Carr’s directorial vision for the production of Rossini’s ‘Armida’

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Article by Martha Maria Mangani – Student, School of Performing Arts

During a personal interview about the production of Rossini’s Armida at the Teatru Manoel, director Paul Carr explained that the opera is rarely performed and is not one of current popular choices. He feels that the storyline is weak, so he sees it as the director’s responsibility to generate new interest in the work. To do this, Carr has decided to adopt a more contemporary approach to the performance. He has set the piece in a museum exhibition about the crusades, using the Manoel Theatre’s 100-year-old painted backdrops as exhibits. The visitors become so engrossed in the works that they change into the characters of the story. As theatre historian Kara Reilly explains:’[The] interest in retelling stories is not driven by a desire to replicate an assumed ‘original’. Their process begins [with] a keen interest […] in how stories might change to reflect differing perspectives and differing contexts’.[1] Carr has therefore opted for a unique adaptation of Armida which will undoubtedly resonate more with a present-day audience.

Carr’s version of Armida may be considered an interdisciplinary production. Opera is already seen as such due to its integration of music and drama; the score and the dramatic narrative work in tandem to enhance the emotional expression and storytelling of the piece. However, Rossini’s Armida also includes dance, an element which Carr considers a main point of focus for the production. In the interview, Carr admitted that enhancing the narrative through technological media was not a viable option due to budget constraints. Nonetheless, this outcome has proved to be beneficial as now the public’s attention will be held by the performers’ creative physicality within the space, because ‘Not by coincidence, it is in dance that the new images of the body are most clearly visible’.[2] Carr revealed his intention to have the six dancers on stage become an “extension of Armida herself”. He sees Armida as a mad sorceress, struggling between love and revenge, and compares her to a modern-day “drag queen”. Carr’s direction foregrounds the sexuality of the piece, highlighting elements of love, desire and betrayal in the story, and exploiting these themes as a means to cross boundaries. In Carr’s words, he wants “the production to be both sexy and dangerous”.

Carr’s innovative approach may also be seen in his declared aim ‘to find comedy where it can be found’ within Armida, so as to ‘darken the dramatic moments even more’. Humour, which often goes unnoticed or is underestimated in tragedy, can leave a great impact within this genre of performance. In an interview, Simon McBurney, the artistic director of contemporary theatre company Complicité, made similar observations when he noted that traditionally, tragedy is seen as very profound and critical whilst comedy is comforting and amusing. However, he believes the opposite to be true. ‘Tragedy is rather good for man’s dignity. It makes us feel we’re really important creatures whereas comedy reveals the absurd truth’.[3]

Carr believes that a modern-day audience may not feel ‘emotionally attached to Armida’, Its concerns are not those of spectators living during the Romantic era. When asked how he anticipates the audience’s response to his production, Carr simply hopes they will enjoy ‘an evening of entertainment’ while watching a production that is rarely staged, and presents a fresh interpretation. This would undoubtedly be satisfying enough for everyone involved in the opera.



Lehmann, Hans-Thies. 2006. Postdramatic Theatre. (London and New York: Routledge)

McBurney, Simon interviewed by Kirsty Young, Desert Island Discs, BBC Radio 4, 15 July 2012 < BBC Radio 4 – Desert Island Discs, Simon McBurney > [accessed 26 January 2024]

Reilly, Kara. (ed.) 2017. Contemporary Approaches to Adaptations in Theatre. (London: Palgrave Macmillan)

[1] Reilly (ed.) 2017: 9

[2] Lehmann 2006: 163

[3] McBurney 2012

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