Armida is one of those operas you don’t see very much because it’s really, really hard to perform. There are 6 tenor parts – all of which are for good tenors, not sucky tenors. It’s a bel canto opera and the role of Armida is written for a coloratura soprano (check the glossary).
Armida is a pagan sorceress who is in love with a Christian soldier during the first crusade. She’s come to the soldiers in disguise in the first act, asking for their help. Her evil uncle has usurped her throne and she needs them to make him give it back. While it’s true that her uncle is evil, the rest is hogwash. Armida and her uncle plan to weaken the Christian army by taking away some of their men.
The men agree and they chose Rinaldo as their new leader. This makes Gernando angry enough to provoke Rinaldo to duel. While Gernando does not suck as a tenor, he does suck as a soldier and Rinaldo kills him.
Fearing retribution, Rinaldo allows Armida to whisk him away in a poof of sorcery.
They arrive in act two on a cloud drawn by dragons. We get a glimpse of their new home before they arrive and one can’t help but notice it’s infested with demons. If we were wondering if Armida is a good witch or a bad witch, the demons (especially the baritone ones) give all but the incredibly slow among us our answer. Rinaldo, who is cute, brave and incredibly slow, does not seem to notice.
In fact, he becomes even more in love with Armida than he was in act 1. It’s sickening, really. Armida has taken him to a secret island and has provided every delight imaginable (sort of). For instance, there’s a ballet scene that’s like “okay so we don’t have a big screen tv or ESPN, but look! A ballet about football!” The brave but completely whipped Rinaldo loses all desire to save Christianity. Holy land? What holy land?
In act 3, two knights (Ubaldo and Carlo), come to rescue Rinaldo. They think it’s a pretty swell island until they get a whiff of the demons. They see the lovers together (off stage somewhere) and are horrified to note that Rinaldo and Armida have taken to wearing matching sweatshirts and are making up pet names for each other. They hide behind a butterfly bush.
Armida has to go do something. She doesn’t say what but clearly she needs some “me” time. Ubaldo and Carlo rush out after she goes and try to hurry Rinaldo along. He hesitates and they show him his reflection in a magic shield. He gasps in horror when he realizes he is still carrying Armida’s purse after their trip to the mall.
Ubaldo and Carlo drag Rinaldo away kicking and screaming.
Armida comes back for her purse and finds Rinaldo gone. She goes after them and has herself a first class moral struggle. She loves him, but she kind of wants to kill him anyway.
I won’t spoil it by telling you what happens when she catches up to him and he leaves anyway.
(Furies are invoked. Oh yes they are.)