Magazine article The Spectator

Stirred by Gluck

Magazine article The Spectator

Stirred by Gluck

Article excerpt

Armide Buxton Betrothal in a Monastery Glyndebourne

The production of Gluck's Armide at the Buxton Festival posed for me, yet again, the question that any decent account of one of his major operas always does: why are they to be seen so rarely?

Even Orfeo ed Euridice, which used to be reasonably common, seems to have become less frequent, perhaps because of the well-intentioned rigourists who insist on performing the Vienna version without the marvellous additions Gluck made for Paris. Armide is a sprawling work by Gluck's standards, even when judiciously pruned, since he used the same text as the undemandingly diffuse Lully. Yet with Gluck, from the opening bars of the overture, there is as always a sense of urgency, with taut rhythms, propulsive melodic lines, and a general air of economy in the interests of getting to the heart of things: the contrast with Handel's indulgent expansiveness couldn't be more complete.

Buxton's production was not distinguished, either visually, vocally or dramatically. The one wholly satisfactory element was the playing of the orchestra under the intelligent direction of Robert King. The lighting seemed, for much of the evening, designed to illuminate the area of the dress circle where I was sitting rather than the stage. Movements were gauche, and a jagged chasm made traversals of the stage a hazardous affair. Armide herself, Rosana Lamosa, began fairly acutely underpowered (this was the penultimate performance) but by the end she was raging and raving adequately, making clear how much of a predecessor of Berlioz's Didon Armide is, alternating between savage execration and despairing lament. And I have never seen anyone look more defeated, as she lay at the front of the stage, everything she valued -- the warrior Renaud -- lost to her. He was a less charismatic presence, in the person of Todd Wilander, than he would ideally have been, though Renaud does unfortunately resemble Aeneas as Armide does Didon -- the whole situation between them is very similar.

One major problem for Gluck is that the whole point is the seductiveness of sensuality as opposed to that of getting on with one's mission, but he doesn't really command a sensual idiom. Nonetheless, he is up to the challenge, if only by being firstrate at conveying languorousness, so that the conflict for Renaud is more one of indolence versus activity. And in the lengthy duet between the soon-no-longerto-be lovers Gluck's idiom does briefly undergo a remarkable expansion.

The supporting cast ranged from the excellent -- the two crusaders sent to rescue Renaud -- to the embarrassing. I was looking forward very much to the arrival of Hatred, incarnated in one of my favourite character singers, Frances McCafferty, but though she put on a bravura display of gesturing, she was hoarse and made far less of the part than one had every right to expect. …

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