Rossini: Armida

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Rossini
LABELS: Arts
WORKS: Armida
PERFORMER: Cecilia Gasdia, Chris Merritt, William Matteuzzi, Bruce Ford; Ambrosian Opera Chorus, I Solisti Veneti/Claudio Scimone
CATALOGUE NO: 47327-2 Reissue (1992)
Rossini’s third serious opera is a rarity not for the quality of its score but because it’s such a challenge to produce. Its heroine is an enchantress, so the stage directions inevitably require incredible feats of legerdemain; the plot was succinctly damned by Andrew Porter as ‘feeble’; and the cast calls for six tenors each able to negotiate the most florid runs.

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By doubling two of the roles, the conductor Claudio Scimone makes do with four, and was fortunate to enlist some of the finest tenors in this repertoire: Chris Merritt, William Matteuzzi, Charles Workman and, best of all, Bruce Ford, whose honeyed tone and remarkable agility, especially in the sensational Act III trio for three tenors, are the chief selling points of this 1992 recording. It’s only a shame that Ford sings two of the comprimario roles rather than the lead.

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But Armida is principally a woman’s opera. Rossini wrote it for the legendary Isabella Colbran shortly before he married her, and the exacting soprano writing was a tribute to her remarkable talent. Cecilia Gasdia negotiates the breathtaking coloratura with commendable flexibility and accuracy, though she sometimes sounds hurried, but hers is a hard, brilliant tone, and she’s never quite convincing as the enthralling seductress her character is intended to suggest. Claire Wrathall