Ever since I conducted part of Haydn's last opera L'anima del filosofo for Glimmerglass Opera in the USA, I have been intrigued by Haydn's contributions to the stage. Mozart's mature operas were heard by the eager audiences of Vienna and Prague, whereas Haydn's were only attended by a few at Esterházy (and indeed L'anima deal filosofo was not even heard at all until the 20th Century, as rehearsals in London were forcibly halted through a lack of a proper performance permit!). Mozart's mature operas have been performed so frequently for over 200 years, yet Haydn's have only recently re-emerged from obscurity. It's still difficult to gauge what their impact will be to future audiences, as his operatic style and audience appeal is very different to Mozart's. What is certain from my point of view is that Haydn wrote some of his very best music in his last operas: music that is the equal of Die Schöpfung and the last symphonies.
We find in Armida a composer at the height of his compositional powers: melodically and harmonically inspired, as well as in complete control of a beautiful orchestral palette. Armida presents us with clearly-drawn, compelling characters graced with moving and fiery music. The well-known and well-loved story from Tasso is very well served by the mature Haydn, and he wrote music that taxes his lead singers as much, if not more, than Mozart does in his last 5 operatic works. Armida's plethora of high C's in her Act 2 defiant aria make this point clearly, as do the many passages of coloratura for both her and Rinaldo. This is still an opera about fabulously larger than life characters from a distant time, unlike the more identifiable Mozart/da Ponte contemporary citizens, and the music and drama of Armida reflects this in most exciting and satisfying ways.
I can't wait to sink my teeth into this work, and help to bring it to life with our most wonderful cast and orchestra, together with an incredibly talented young American stage director, Crystal Manich, with whom I have had the privilege of collaborating on many occasions. I have just finished conducting Stravinksy's The Rake's Progress with Pittsburgh Opera, and urged people to see that masterpiece twice, as there was so much to take in from that masterpiece. I think I will be urging people to do the same with Haydn's Armida.