by MILAN PETKOVIC
The action takes place in the vicinity of Jerusalem at the time of the First Crusade (end of 11th century). Armida, the niece of Idraote, King of Damascus, is a pagan princess with magical powers who wishes to prevent the Crusaders from further invading her country. She is, however, deeply in love with the Christian knight Rinaldo, whom she rescued once when he went astray. Goffredo, the commander-in-chef of the Christian army, declares that a tribute must be paid to the deceased leader of the Franks, Dudon, before the Crusaders can continue their battle and sacred mission. Eustazio, Goffredos brother, announces the arrival of Armida, who has come together with a disguised Idraote to play a ruse. In order to weaken the Christian army, she pretends that her throne, and indeed life, have been threatened by Idraote, and asks Goffredo for ten of his best soldiers to help her protect the usurped throne. After an initial reluctance and Eustazios sympathetic pleas in favor of Armidas request, Goffredo finally accepts. Helped by her seductiveness, feminine charms and successful pretense, Armida wins; she and Idraote rejoice.
The successor to the deceased Dudon is to be elected shortly, and the choice falls on Rinaldo. This provokes fury of Gernando, a knight who secretly hoped that he would be chosen instead. He swears vengeance. Rinaldo meet Armida, who reproaches the knight of rejecting her love as well as of an insensitive abandonment after she had rescued him. Rinaldo provides his strong sense of duty as a Crusader as an explanation, but immediately softens at Armidas mention of love. He is indeed in love with the beautiful princess, and finally admits it. Both express their feelings for each other and decide to leave together.
In the meantime, blind with envy and rage, Gernando openly accuses Rinaldo of cowardice and of being the conqueror of ladies hearts rather than of infidels. Provoked by these words, Rinaldo challenges Gernando to a duel, and ultimately kills him. Upon hearing this disturbing news from the witnessing knights, the outraged Goffredo orders Rinaldos arrest. Rinaldo, however, firmly refuses to submit. Armida sees the sudden turn of the events as an opportunity to be finally united with the beloved knight in her own realm, and they happily elope together.
Demons, lead by Astarotte, come out of a black abyss and sing of their loyalty to Armida. They praise her magic power and efforts to fight the Christians. Astarotte announces the arrival of Armida and Rinaldo, who has completely fallen prey to Armidas charms. All disperse. A cloud descends to earth and melts away, revealing Armida and Rinaldo seated a chariot drawn by two dragons. Armida transforms the chariot into a bank of flowers and Rinaldo is almost speechless with surprise. They sing of their happiness. Armida admits her trying to trick Goffredo, adding that it was only because she wanted to see Rinaldo again. She subsequently transforms the dark, terrifying place into the interior of a splendid palace full of graceful nymphs and cupids, who present garlands of flowers to Rinaldo. Armida praise the almighty power and spell of Love. The Act terminates with an allegoric ballet: Armida, eager to destroy the desire for glory in Rinaldos heart and replace it with an even greater love for herself, conjures up a vision of a young warrior surrounded by lovely nymphs who persistently try to seduce him. After an initial resistance, the hero gradually succumbs to lust and pleasure, letting his military symbols to be replaced with a crown and garlands of flowers.
The Crusaders have sent Carlo and Ubaldo to search for Rinaldo who, in the meantime, has been forgiven by his former leader Goffredo. Armed with a magic baton and a script, Carlo and Ubaldo manage to penetrate the defenses of the enchanted garden and overcome the attempts of apparitions disguised as nymphs to seduce them. They hide at the sight of Armida and Rinaldo. The lovers are still blissfully happy and swear eternal faithfulness. Armida leaves for a moment, and Rinaldos happiness is intruded upon by the two Christian knights. They bitterly reproach Rinaldo for failure in his Christian duty, showing him his own reflection in an polished adamantine shield. Rinaldo, initially torn between love and honor, now fully realizes his folly. Ashamed and full of remorse, he is now resolute to join the Crusaders and leave Armida forever. All three leave together.
Armida, unable to find Rinaldo, sees him in the company of two Christian warriors. Suspecting that Rinaldo is abandoning her, she confronts the three knights at the exterior of her palace. However, the enchantress calls for pity and tearful pleas not to be abandoned are in vain. Her begging to be taken as Rinaldos most humble servant or esquire also falls on deaf ears. Brought back to reality and unwaveringly supported by Carlo and Ubaldo, Rinaldo is now determined to leave. However, he still feel sympathy for Armida, and hesitates; Carlo and Ubaldo are obliged to take him away by force. Armida faints.
Left totally alone and regaining conscience, Armida has visions of Love and Revenge vying for a place in her heart. After a long struggle, she finally designates Revenge as a more rewarding choice. In a pitiable rage, she orders the demons to destroy her garden and palace. They promptly obey, and Armida flies up into the sky in a chariot, while everything is engulfed by huge clouds of fire and smoke.
Torquato Tassos poem, however, offers a different ending. After Rinaldos abandonment of Armida, she swears revenge and assembles an army in hope to destroy the knight. But when the two meet again in the enchanted forest, Armidas persistent affection renders her incapable of murder; she contemplates suicide instead. Rinaldo prevents Armida from committing her desperate act, and the two are reconciled and reunited (the implication, however, being that Armida will convert to Christianity and subsequently marry Rinaldo). Not all musical settings of the original story, as narrated by Tasso, preserve the happy end. Lullys, Glucks, Haydns and Rossinis operas in particular purposefully avoid the happy outcome in favor of portraying strong, conflicting emotions of the principal character and a cataclysm shown on the stage a spectacular collapse of Armidas palace and enchanted garden.
© Milan Petkovic, 2002