Wexford revives Dvorak’s last opera, Armida, in an imaginative manufacturing with some very good singing

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Dvorak: Armida - Jennifer Davis - Wexford Festival Opera (Photo Clive Barda, ArenaPAL)
Dvorak: Armida – Jennifer Davis – Wexford Competition Opera (Photograph Clive Barda, ArenaPAL)

Dvorak: Armida; Jennifer Davis, Gerard Schneider, Stanislav Kuflyuk, director Hartmut Schörghofer, conductor Norbert Baxa; Wexford Competition Opera
Reviewed 2 November 2022 (★★★★★) 

A trio of very good principals, some very good music and a manufacturing that helps carry the drama to life make for a nice resuscitation of Dvorak’s last opera

Coming three years after Rusalka and stuffed with hanging music, Dvorak’s opera Armida has languished, failing to search out traction within the opera home or the recording studio. It thus made a great match for Wexford Competition Opera’s Magic & Music season.

Dvorak: Armida - Gerard Schneider - Wexford Festival Opera (Photo Clive Barda, ArenaPAL)
Dvorak: Armida – Gerard Schneider
Wexford Competition Opera (Photograph Clive Barda, ArenaPAL)

Wexford Competition Opera‘s manufacturing of Dvorak’s Armida on the Nationwide Opera Home (seen 2 November 2022) was designed and directed by Hartmut Schörghofer and performed by Norbert Baxa, with Jennifer Davis as Armida, Gerard Schneider as Rinald, Jozef Benci as Hydraot, Stanislav Kuflyuk as Ismen, Jan Hynk as Petr, Rory Dunne as Bohumir plus Josef Moravec, Andrii Kharlamov, Libuse Santorisova, Chris Mosz and Josef Kovacic. Lighting was by D.M. Wooden, video by Raffaele Acquaviva.

The one set was a white, Moorish-inspired room with a clear display working diagonally throughout the house, thus offering a way of getting motion separated entrance and rear, but additionally facilitating magic results utilizing movies and Pepper’s Ghost. So, in Act One, Armida has a imaginative and prescient of Rinald, and in Act Two, Ismen seems full along with his dragon, while we see each the destruction and reconstruction of Armida’s palace within the second half. Costumes had been a mixture of types, together with up to date Islamic references for Hydraot and Ismen, however chain mail and tabards for the crusaders.

The opera was the primary main one which Dvorak had composed on a non-Czech theme and Jaroslav Vrchlicky’s considerably stiff libretto presents little in the best way of alternatives for character growth. What there are although, are a sequence of conditions pregnant with Wagnerian prospects, with echoes of Parsifal and Tristan. However earlier than we get too carried away, it’s value taking into account that the function of Armida was written for the soprano who sang Rusalka, and that Armida and Rusalka’s sinuous last duet appears extra impressed by the closing scene of Verdi’s Aida than anything. And for all of the Wagnerian atmosphere, the music is pure Czech.

The story is likely to be an Italian tackle occasions within the Center East and the dramaturgy Wagnerian, however the melodies and rhythms are distinctly Czech. This disconnect is maybe one other of the delicate elements mitigating in opposition to the work’s common efficiency.

The 2 main roles require singers with stamina and heft, alongside flexibility and the flexibility to sing a nice line. Each Jennifer Davis and Gerard Schneider had this in spades, added to which each regarded bodily convincing of their roles.

Jennifer Davis made an outstanding warrior maid with a fearless, gleaming voice. But her opening aria was superbly formed and her scenes with Schneider’s Rinald on the finish of Act Two and in Act Three had an opulent, seductive high quality. There was by no means any sense of getting to manage or rein within the voice, all appeared ease.

Dvorak: Armida - Stanislav Kuflyuk - Wexford Festival Opera (Photo Clive Barda, ArenaPAL)
Dvorak: Armida – Stanislav Kuflyuk – Wexford Competition Opera (Photograph Clive Barda, ArenaPAL)

As Rinald, Gerard Schneider made a convincingly sturdy crusader, but he additionally had a skittish spring in his step within the love scene in Act Three. His serenade of Armida was pretty and their duets ardent. However it’s on the opening of Act 4 that the actual taxing second got here as Dvorak provides Rinald a Tristan-esque scena, an enormous second as Rinald rediscovers his Christian religion. Schneider was mesmerising right here. Maybe he did tire a bit, understandably, however he nonetheless had sufficient energy to hitch Jennifer Davis’ Armida for the wonderful but touching last duet.

Finishing the love triangle (and what’s opera with out a love triangle) was Stanlislav Kuflyuk as Ismen, displaying an exciting helden-baritone. Kuflyuk impressed on his first entry in Act One, and every look introduced one thing particular. On the finish of Act Two he spirited Rinald and Armida away on his dragon, and in Act Three his jealousy led him to assist the crusaders looking for Rinald. And every time, Kuflyuk thrilled musically too.

The remainder of the libretto maybe exhibits Vrchlicky’s inexperience, each Hydraot (Armida’s father) and Bohumir (chief of the crusaders) are underused. However Jozef Benci as Hydraot thrilled alongside Kuflyuk in Act One, while Rory Dunne was a stable presence in Act Two as Bohumir. Jan Hynk was vivid certainly because the crusaders’ priest, Petr, the one individual to be proper about Armida in Act Two when she seems in disguise within the crusaders’ camp.

Josef Moravec, Thomas Birch, Andrii Kharlamov, Christ Mosz and Josef Kovacic supplied robust help as Rinald’s fellow crusaders, with Kovacic and Moravec as the 2 who really rescue Rinald in Act Three. Libuse Santorisova gave us some extremely characterful seductive solos in Act Three.

Dvorak: Armida - Wexford Festival Opera (Photo Clive Barda, ArenaPAL)
Dvorak: Armida – Wexford Competition Opera (Photograph Clive Barda, ArenaPAL)

Schörghofer’s manufacturing was admirably easy, telling the story clearly and instantly, but with loads of creativeness each when it comes to the visuals and in the best way he used the complete auditorium within the first half, to nice acoustic impact.

Norbert Baxa drew a nice efficiency of Dvorak’s richly textured rating from the orchestra. Dvorak’s writing is multi-layered and stuffed with particulars, all given their due, although there was a worrying lack of unanimity between stage and pit throughout the opening act.

The primary two acts of Dvorak’s opera are maybe considerably stiff, however from the top of Act Two issues open up, resulting in the fantastic freedom and drama of the ultimate act. Dvorak evidently felt the opera could possibly be decreased to a few acts, and deliberate revisions. Alas he died earlier than he might implement them.

Because it was this nice efficiency confirmed that there are each musical and dramatic riches aplenty on this fascinating work. The manufacturing is a co-production with the theatre in Pilsen the place Norbert Baxa is music director, so I do hope that Armida may have one thing of a shelf-life this time round.

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