Lenneke Ruiten, Teresa Iervolino, Florie Valiquette, Ashley Riches; Choeur de Chambre de Namur; Les Talens Lyriques/Christoph Rousset
Aparté AP244 115:17 mins (2 discs)
Thanks to Peter Shaffer’s play (and subsequently acclaimed film) Amadeus, Antonio Salieri is often viewed as a malign individual of limited talent who did his best to destroy Mozart. It’s fiction, of course. During his lifetime Salieri was admired all over Europe, with important commissions from Italy and Paris as well as Vienna. Those of his scores revived and recorded over recent decades frequently prove to be of superior quality – among them the present work. Composed for Vienna in 1771 and widely performed for 30 years, Armida was his first serious Italian opera. This is its first recording.
Salieri is often imaginative. The opera’s overture, for instance, is a programmatic piece describing the Christian knight Ubaldo’s arrival on Armida’s island, surrounded by dense fog, the guardian monsters who hurl themselves upon him and their confusion as they are put to flight, his ascent of the cliffs and his serenity on reaching the top. Under the motivating baton of Christophe Rousset, Les Talens Lyriques find the exact colours for this thrilling piece of tone-painting.
Thereafter Salieri’s numerous arias, ensembles, choruses and dance movements are of a very high order, with many distinctive echoes of Gluck’s reform works.
The cast is solid. The title-role has strong possibilities which soprano Lenneke Ruiten regularly seizes, among them the opera’s close, when Armida’s destructive fury reaches its apogee. Teresa Iervolino deploys her vividly dramatic mezzo as her confidante, Ismene. Florie Valiquette’s sweet soprano is well cast in the (originally castrato) role of the errant knight Rinaldo, while Ashley Riches is thoroughly engaged as his friend Ubaldo.