- Associated Press - Saturday, February 19, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - It took 193 years for Rossini’s “Armida” to make it to the Metropolitan Opera but only nine months for its first revival.

Soprano Renee Fleming and five of the six tenors who sang in last spring’s production premiere returned Friday night. Given the time to work together, the cast sounded and appeared more comfortable than when the staging debuted.

Fleming sang the role of the sorceress at the 1993 Rossini Festival in Pesaro, Italy, and repeated it in a concert performance at Carnegie Hall three years later. The Bel Canto coloratura is not the most natural fit for her voice, but she sings it convincingly and was more relaxed than last spring, leading to a more breezy feeling throughout.

Armida’s appeal to Fleming is evident, given her waves of love, anger and pride. She dominates the stage for much of the nearly four hours.

Also back in the cast are Lawrence Brownlee (Rinaldo), John Osborn (Goffredo), Yeghishe Manucharyan (Eustazio), Kobie van Rensburg (Ubaldo) and Barry Banks (Carlo). Antonio Siragusa took over from Jose Manuel Zapata as Gernando, and the native of Messina stood out for his superior diction as the only Italian native in the cast.

Brownlee, van Rensburg and Banks combined for the most moving moment of the night, the third act trio when the two Crusaders rescue Rinaldo from Armida’s control. All six tenors showed vibrant voices with sheen.

As he did when the production was new, conductor Riccardo Frizza led a lively account of Rossini’s bouncy, colorful music, including a lengthy second-act ballet interestingly and humorously choreographed by Graciela Daniele.

Director Mary Zimmerman’s production, with sets by Richard Hudson, is rather plain _ the green palm trees suggesting a desert oasis outside Jerusalem would fit in a tiki bar, and the oversize insects would work in a museum gift shop.

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