Armida in Manchester


This was a very unusual day. Some months ago came the surprising news that Manchester University Music Society were planning a world premiere staging of my opera Armida. This musical drama was created around 2003-4 as a television film, in collaboration with my treasured colleague, director Margaret Williams. The Iraq war was just starting, and we couldn’t get over how this not-so-sudden invasion appeared at the time to be a war ‘made for TV’, with embedded journalists in effect writing the script of the conflict in front of the news cameras. A good way to explore this perception, we thought, was to borrow the plot and characters from Rossini’s Armida, and Handel’s Rinaldo; both based originally on a poem by Tasso about a crusader army besieging the Saracens, who on this occasion are commanded by a sorceress. (Whereupon the Crusader general, Rinaldo, and the sorceress, Armida, fall in love.)

In memory it seems remarkable that this project ever happened. We got to film it in a real desert in Morocco, and it was shown on Channel 4 TV. But, welcome though the temporary exposure of such a project is, it’s difficult for a film opera to have an afterlife. I had nevertheless written a 50-minute score, involving the usual blood, sweat and tears; which was why I was overjoyed by the news that some students had rediscovered the music and were going to perform it in a theatre.

As luck would have it, I’ll be away in America on the weekend of the shows in Manchester University’s Martin Harris Centre. But my visit to this week’s first runthrough was a delight, hearing a score I’d had little option but to forget about, performed with such care and vocal elegance. (For added incredulity, I’ve since heard that there will be an upcoming American stage premiere in April , this time courtesy of USC in Columbia, South Carolina.)

Pictured – inflatable pool furniture, an important theme in Armida.

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JUDITH WEIR

Composer

© Judith Weir, 2020