The activities in this guide address several aspects of Armida:
Rossini’s adoption of a well-established genre as the framework for his opera
The vocal challenges of the lead soprano role
Compositional techniques employed by Rossini to convey the vicissitudes of a romantic relationship
The underlying issue of a culturally defined masculinity
The unique demands on casting and set design this opera makes
The guide is designed to provoke interest in Armida, whether or not your students have any prior acquaintance with opera. It can help you prompt them to think about opera—and the performing arts in general—as a medium of entertainment and of creative expression.
What You Don't Know Might Confuse You:
A Close Look at Armida as Popular Storytelling
Late in 1817, having premiered new works that year in both Milan and Rome, Rossini arrived in Naples where he had taken on a commission for the elaborate new Teatro San Carlo. The new opera would be an extravaganza, complete with astonishing stagecraft, fantastical sets, a grand ballet, and mesmerizing music, particularly for the singer in the title role. But the opera’s story was an old one. Based on the epic poem Gerusalemme Liberata (“Jerusalem Delivered”) by the Italian writer Torquato Tasso (1580), the tale of Armida had formed the basis for about a dozen operas and cantatas since 1621, by such composers as Monteverdi, Handel, and Haydn. In a more general sense, European audiences of the early 19th century were well acquainted with the setting and the motives of legends about the Crusades.
In this activity, 21st-century students can not only learn more about the Crusades, but also explore the broader artistic technique of building a popular entertainment around a set of commonly known symbols and story elements—a genre. They will:
Discuss the what, when, where, and why of the Crusades
Identify contemporary popular story genres
Create stories using the basic plot of Armida and the conventions of contemporary genres