The enchanted garden of ‘Armida’ through the eyes of Tasso and Rossini: Seduce, bewilder and trick

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Article by Ylenia Callus – Student, School of Performing Arts

When they arrive in Armida’s enchanted gardens, they are overwhelmed by their beauty, even though they know it’s all an illusion’[1]. (Metropolitan Opera)

In his opera Armida, Gioachino Rossini created a wondrously immersive version of Armida’s Enchanted Garden – where an honoured crusader, Rinaldo, is bewitched and seduced into forgetting his duty by the Saracen sorceress, Armida.

This depiction of the enchanted garden was, of course, heavily influenced by the original story of Armida as created by the legendary Renaissance poet, Torquato Tasso, in his work Gerusalemme Liberata (Jerusalem Delivered). One of the core characteristics of this garden, exploited by both Tasso and Rossini, is the use of illusion. This factor is the true power at work to help corrupt and bind Rinaldo, until he frees himself of the sorceress’ spell:

Armida’s garden is a place of self-willed entrapment: although the garden has a poisonous stream, monstrous guards, fortifications, and mazes, all it takes to escape is a conscious renunciation of its power.[2]

Rinaldo, therefore, becomes self-willingly entrapped as he is not forced to enter the garden, nor is he imprisoned there. He has entered out of his own free will and it is his choice to stay. As sociologist Mark Sanford explains: ‘Self-entrapment is a self-imposed limitation that restricts an individual’s potential and hinders their ability to lead gratifying lives’[3]. This self-imposed limitation leads Rinaldo to forget his duty as a soldier and transform himself into a vulnerable young man seeking love from Armida in this spellbound state. Tasso achieves this illusion by removing anything that would remind Rinaldo of his duty as a loyal soldier. A single object, a shield, the metonymic symbol of Rinaldo’s mission and obligations, makes him conscious of the delusion he is experiencing:

When confronted with the shield, Rinaldo becomes aware of how useless a sword can appear in a place like the garden and how futile a mirror is in battle. […] The shield entices him as cheese does mice. It is a bait to free him from the spell. It is therefore a “metaphysical mirror” in which Rinaldo sees his potential image as a warrior [4].

The shield, therefore, breaks the spell of illusion and reveals the garden as being a futile and wasteful place which imposes limitations to Rinaldo’s self-growth and his duty.

Rossini, in contrast, uses theatrical artifice to manipulate the audience’s attention. He shows the presence of illusion within the enchanted garden by exploiting stage tactics and special effects to overcome staging limitations. Evidence of this may be found in his written stage directions for Armida for its original venue – the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples. One of the stage directions involves an army of torch-wielding demons rampaging through the enchanted garden and rendering it desolate. The fantastical creatures with their magical torches are so awe-inspiring that they allow for the stage to be totally transformed under the audience’s very eyes.

Rossini uses music to highlight the illusion of the idyllic world represented by the garden with the song ‘D’Amore al dolce impero’ (Act II), where Armida sings about love and shows Rinaldo a pantomime about a warrior being seduced by fantastical beings. The musical composition sets out to entrance the spectators with its own seductive melody.

Armida’s garden has seen numerous reimaginings both in literature and in art from artists such as Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Jan Soens and many others. This new representation at the Manoel Theatre presents another retelling; one where the enchanted garden may bewitch and enthrall us once more.



Croci, Laura. 1987. ‘Rinaldo and his arms in the Gerusalemme Liberata’, Comitatus: A journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 18 (1): 21-33

Opera Armida Resource Pack. 2010. Metropolitan Opera <> [accessed 15 January 2024]

Sanford, Mark. 2023. ‘Breaking Free: Overcoming Self-Entrapment in Pursuit of a Good Career Alignment’, Medium <>[accessed 17 January 2024]

Wadoski, Andrew M. 2008. ‘Spenser’s Gardens: Poetry, Fantasy and Allegory’ (published online Doctor of Philosophy Dissertation, University of Rochester New York)


[1] Armida Resource pack 2010: 3

[2] Wadoski 2008: 129

[3] Sanford 2023

[4] Croci 1987:31

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