Jean-Baptiste Lully

ARMIDE

Music tragedy in five acts with prologue in the original French.

Composer | Jean-Baptiste Lully
Libretto | Philippe Quinault
Premiera | 5th November 2017 
 
 
CREATORS:
Director and choreographer | Deda Cristina Colonna
Set Designer/Lighting Manager/Costumes | Francesco Vitali
Choreographer Assistant | Karin Modigh
Director Assistant| Hannah Gelesz
II Set Designer| Katarzyna Gabrat-Szymańska
 
 
SOLOISTS:
Armide | Marcelina Beucher
Renaud | Aleksander Rewiński / Aleksander Kunach
Phénice | Sylwia Krzysiek / Aleksandra Żakiewicz
Sidonie | Aleksandra Borkiewicz
Hidraot | Jarosław Bręk
Aronte/Ubaldo | Piotr Pieron
La Haine | Tomasz Rak / Łukasz Klimczak
Artemidor / The Danish Knight | Bartosz Nowak / Sylwester Smulczyński

Conductor| Paul Esswood (2020/2021 season), Benjamin Bayl (2017/2018 season)
 

Dancers | Artur Zakirov, Adrian Navarro, Matilda Larsson, Aleksandra Pawluczuk, Valerie Lauer, Sławomir Greś, Joanna Lichorowicz-Greś

Nordic Baroque Dancers
Director | Karin Modigh (premiere: 2017/2018 season)

Ancient Instruments Ensemble Of Warsaw Chamber Opera
Chorus Master | Krzysztof Kusiel-Moroz

ANCIENT INSTRUMENTS ENSEMBLE OF WARSAW CHAMBER OPERA  | MUSICAE ANTIQUAE COLLEGIUM VARSOVIENSE

Language consultations | Dorota Całek


A REVOLUTION IN OPERA

The history of opera is marked with milestones; innovations in form or technique that were novelties when they appeared, but have been proven by time to be revolutionary for the development of art. One such work is, without a doubt, Armide by Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687), whose revolutionary quality was the introduction of accompanied recitative (recitativo accompagnato) as a means of artistic expression. The ultimate testament to how quickly this form of scenic action, often incorporated as an element of narration, found favour with composers is the legacy of maestros such as Jean-Philippe Rameau, Christoph Willibald Gluck, Georg Friedrich Händel or Johann Sebastian Bach. 15 February 1686 thus marked the beginning of something we see as an integral part of the art of opera; something that was, however, considered more than a novum in Maestro Lully’s time. Not only that, but the subject matter itself found so much favour with the great figures of opera that on 23 September 1777, Gluck – who did not hide his admiration for Lully – presented his opera entitled Armide, also consisting of five acts, in Paris.

However, the success of Jean-Baptiste Lully’s Armide – the composer’s last work created together with librettist Philippe Quinault – did not come as soon as the work premièred on 15 February 1686 at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal in the presence of Louis of France, the Grand Dauphin. The scenographer was Jean Bérain the Elder and the conductor was Pascal Collasse, a disciple of Lully (it was him who completed Achille et Polyxène, which Lully died before finishing). Some sources even maintain that Armide was initially a failure; moreover, it was never shown at the Palace of Versailles, even though its subject was inspired by the king himself (Lully was his court composer; the most important figure in the musical world – the superintendent). Historians believe it was a result of scandals caused by Lully himself; his misconduct (an alleged affair with one of the king’s pages) and resulting fall into disfavour. Homosexuality was punishable by death at the time; most likely, only the respect of Louis XIV (who never saw the opera!) saved the composer’s life. The opera, however, introduced Lully’s music to Italian audiences (Rome 1690). In Paris, Armide returned to the scene in 1703 (and was shown regularly until 1766); it was also performed in Marseilles and Lyon.

The opera is the origin of a famous aria: the monologue of the eponymous heroine, often cited as an unparalleled example of the composer’s artistry; the aesthetic absolute. Sadly, for more than 150 years, Armide in its full length was absent from opera programmes. Despite the occasional performances of fragments (such as the aforementioned monologue of Armide, presented on 8 April 1832 thanks to musicologist François-Joseph Fétis) and exceptions made on the 200th anniversary of the composer’s death (Brussels Conservatory, 1887), Armide was not shown again in its full length until the 1905 performance at the Schola Cantorum de Paris. With time, it reconquered the hearts of conductors and music lovers alike, appearing on the scene in Monte Carlo, Florence, Geneva and Birmingham. A quarter of a century ago, Philippe Herreweghe conducted it at the Antwerp Opera and subsequently at the Theâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris.

Armide is considered one of the first operas (or even the very first) with such a prominent focus on the psychological aspect of the characters and an allegorical quality, with none of the light, frivolously aethereal nature of the Maestro’s previous works. It was very emotionally received by the author’s contemporaries; audience members’ reports are often quoted. In his lexicon A Thousand and One Operas, Piotr Kamiński (Warszawa: Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne SA, 2008) quotes a statement by Lully’s contemporary Le Cerf de La Viéville: About twenty times, I saw everyone gripped by fear, breathless, unable to even move, their entire soul in their ears, and later exhaling with a murmur of joy and admiration.

Today, Lully is often mentioned in academic disputes regarding the superiority of Italian opera over French opera. Advocates of the former comment on the composer’s Florentine birth (he left Italy at the age of 14) by saying that the best French opera has to offer originated in Italy. The Warsaw performance has already earned a place in the history of opera, as each appearance of Armide on the scene is noted by critics all over the world. The performance, directed by the outstanding Maestra of Baroque opera – Deda Cristina Colonna – is coproduced with Innsbrucker Festwochen der Alten Musik, Music Festival Potsdam Sanssouci and Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles.

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Shadow

LIBRETTO

ACT I

Armide, a warrior princess and sorceress, is praised by her confidantes Phénice and Sidonie for her victory over the Crusaders whom she has taken captive. However, Armide expresses her anger and frustration because she has not been able to prevail over Renaud, the most valiant of the Christian knights. Armide’s uncle, Hidraot, urges his niece to choose a husband, but she declares that were she to yield to love she would only consider someone who could conquer Renaud. Amidst the celebration of Armide’s victory, Aronte, who was guarding the prisoners, enters mortally wounded, announcing the prisoners’ rescue by Renaud. Armide and Hidroat swear that such an enemy will not escape their vengeance.

ACT II

Artémidore, one of the knights rescued by Renaud, praises his rescuer and asks him to flee the place where Armide rules. Renaud assures Artémidore that his heart is safe from Armide’s enchantment. Hidraot and Armide conjure up demons to put Renaud to sleep. The hero admires his surroundings and sits down to rest. Armide enters, intending to kill Renaud as he sleeps. Instead, she is overcome by love for him, and decides that her triumph, thanks to her spells, would be to bring Renaud into her power and have him love her. She asks the demons to transform themselves into zephyrs to carry her and Renaud far away.

ACT III

Armide deplores the conquest of her heart by Renaud. Phénice and Sidonie urge Armide to abandon herself to love, but Armide is troubled because, while she is in love with him, he is bound to her only by her spells. Armide invokes the spirit of Hate to rescue her from her love for Renaud. Hate and her followers perform a powerful invocation, but Armide cannot give up Renaud, and she sends Hate away. Hate curses Armide, condemning her to the punishment of endless love.

ACT IV

Two of Renaud’s companions, Ubalde and the Danish Knight, are searching for their hero to rescue him from Armide. They manage to resist the temptations and dangerous delights set in their path by Armide.

ACT V

Armide and Renaud declare their passion but Armide is haunted by a dark foreboding, and wishes to consult the Underworld. She retires and leaves the Pleasures and a troop of Fortunate Lovers to amuse Renaud. In her absence, Ubalde and the Danish Knight discover Renaud and break Armide’s spell. She returns in time to confront Renaud as he leaves, imploring him to take her with him as a captive if he will not remain as her lover. For Renaud, Duty and Glory demand that he leave her, but he pities her fate. Armide, left alone, laments her love and the horror of her torment, and declares that the hope of vengence is all that remains to her. Armide then bids the demons destroy her enchanted palace, hoping to bury forever her cursed love.