Tonight’s first work has been called “a work without blemish, of uninterrupted perfection” (Charles Gounod) and one of “the three finest things God has ever made,” along with Hamlet and the sea (Gustave Flaubert). Of course, while God may have had some involvement in the composition, he used Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as his pen. So we heard a historic 1959 recording of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, with Eberhard Wachter, Dame Joan Sutherland, Dame Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, and the Philharmonia Chorus and Orchestra under the baton of the great conductor Carlo Maria Giulini.
For our second opera of the evening, we have a piece by Mozart’s friend Joseph Haydn. In his time, Haydn was actually better known for his operas than for his other material, even though the reverse might be true today. But opera was in fact a staple of the entertainment options preferred at the Esterházy court, and it served as Haydn’s ticket to success. While he wrote a total of 24 operas, he considered Armida to be one to be one of his best. He premiered it on Feb. 26, 1784, and it was quite successful in his time. However, it disappeared from the opera repertoire for a number of years (I suspect for the same reasons that the works of men like Lully, Gluck and Hasse were also seldom performed – the fickle nature of popular opinion), before being revived in 1968 in Berlin. Happily, with the advent of the interest in early music performance and practices, works such as this have reemerged into the public consciousness.
Tonight’s performance is from the year 2000, and features Cecilia Bartoli, Christoph Prégardien, Patricia Petibon, Oliver Widmer, Scot Weir, and Markus Schäfer. The Concentus Musicus Wein is conducted by Nicolas Harnoncourt.