Pinchgut Opera – Haydn’s Armida: Music from the Summerhouse

Rachelle Durkin

Rachelle Durkin will feature as Armida in Franz Joseph Haydn’s opera Armida: Love is a Cruel Mistress courtesy artist and Pinchgut Opera

The Pinchgut Opera of Sydney, which specialises in rediscovering rare gems from the extensive opera repertoire, will present Armida: Love is a Cruel Mistress 2 June – 28 June 2016 at the City Recital Hall, Sydney.

Created in 1783 while he was living in the richly resonating surroundings of the Esterházy Palace by a true genius of humble origins, Austrian composer Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) believed Armida was perhaps his finest operatic work.

Engaged in 1761 to work for the Esterházy household, where he remained for 30 years composing under the patronage of Prince Paul and his successor Prince Nikolaus, Haydn is reported to have commented

“I was cut off from the world there was no one to confuse or torment me, and I was forced to become original”*.

Under the artistic direction of Antony Walker conducting the simply splendid Orchestra of the Antipodes, who play on period instruments, Crystal Manich will direct Armida.

It was in Haydn’s hands that the music of his age in Europe finally shed the formal style of the courts and became an expression of a love of life, especially for those who lived on the land.

Haydn’s flight of musical imagination was vital, full of noble and profound sentiment and impeccably crafted.

As a mature composer he was both flexible and receptive to new ideas.

Crystal Manich

Crystal Manich, Director Haydn’s opera Armida: Love is a Cruel Mistress courtesy artist and Pinchgut Opera

Crystal Manich specialises in theatre and as co-artistic director of Opera Omnia in New York, she believes in offering opera audiences a ‘viable theatrical and intimate experience’.

Opera is the music of love and life, offering accumulated riches as irresistible entertainment that captivates the imagination.

Armida is in the style of a ‘dramma eroica’ (heroic drama) and features coloratura soprano Rachelle Durkin as Armida, with tenor Leif Aruhn-Solén as Rinaldo.

The libretto for Armida is based upon Torquato Tasso’s epic and hugely successful poem in the Italian Renaissance tradition Jerusalem Delivered (Gerusalemme lilberata).

It tells a mythical tale of the First Crusade as European knights led by Godfrey of Bouillon, seek to take back Jerusalem from the Muslims. It’s all about seduction, love and violence in an exotic setting, with the hero and heroine having to choose between the passions of the heart and doing their duty.

This was a subject that resonated with readers at the time, because the Ottoman Empire was advancing its cause throughout Eastern Europe.

Leif Aruhn-Solén

Tenor Leif Aruhn-Solén as Rinaldo in Franz Joseph Haydn’s opera Armida: Love is a Cruel Mistress courtesy artist and Pinchgut Opera

Over the following years the poem would be adapted for theatre, dance, masquerade, madrigals and opera.

Gerusalemme lilberata was first translated into English in 1594, with the best translation considered that by Edward Fairfax in 1600.

The poem then became appealing to educated English readers.

Until the end of the 19th century it was considered one of the supreme achievements of western literature.

Then it finally fell from favour with the rise of the romantic poets, however not before inspiring countless art works, including paintings, frescoes, sculptures and tapestries.

Sung in Italian with English surtitles, this was the last opera Joseph Haydn ever composed and he brought all his mature music skills to bear to ensuring it would be a great success.

Australian born New York based Rachelle Durkin will make a formidable Armida. Her extensive experience 2001 – 2004 at the Metropolitan Opera in New York’s in their young artist’s development program provided valuable experience on the International stage at a formative time in her career.

Now a decade and more along, she’s well known for her wide range of repertoire, including works from the Baroque era (1600 – 1750) to modernity.

Rachelle Durkin has continued to win the hearts of Met audiences, appearing in many challenging roles since.

Recently replacing a sick colleague on stage to great accolades has ensured ongoing Met engagements and audience approval.

Swedish born tenor Leif Aruhn-Solén embraces music from the early Baroque through to works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart who admired Haydn and bridged the era between the Baroque and Classical styles.

He has had a wide ranging career to date and as well as performing opera, has been seen a great deal on the concert stage.

He has performed with such prestigious orchestras as the acclaimed Les Arts Florissants conducted by William Christie, The Netherlands Bach Society, Concerto Copenhagen, the Cleveland Orchestra, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the National Philharmonic in Washington DC, the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, the Singapore Symphony Orchestra to name a few.

Poussin Armida and Rinaldo

Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) Rinaldo and Armida c 16125 Oil on Canvas, Dulwich Picture Gallery, London

Rinaldo is a Christian warrior on his way to Jerusalem and he becomes the target of Armida, who want to keep him a prisoner of her charms in an enchanted garden.

He however is bound down by his beliefs and his mission, and undoubtedly will strive to escape so that he can succeed.

Only performed a handful of times since the score was published as part of a complete Haydn edition in 1965, Armida contains ‘some of Haydn’s most inspired music’.


Eighteenth century musicians, playing string quartets with Haydn courtesy Staats Museum, Vienna

There are many who would agree that Franz Joseph Haydn fulfilled eighteenth century German philosopher Immanuel Kant’s definition of a genius, ‘the talent which gives art its rules’.

Be sure to book for what will be a marvellous experience.

The Pinchgut Opera’s reputation for excellence in everything they do, continues.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016

*Biographische Nortizen über Joseph Haydn, Leipzig, 1810

Armida: Love is a Cruel Mistress


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