Renee Fleming Stars in the Met Premiere of Rossini's ARMIDA 4/12

Renee Fleming Stars in the Met Premiere of Rossini's ARMIDA 4/12

Rossini's rarely performed Armida has its Met premiere on April 12 with a gala performance of Mary Zimmerman's new production. Renowned soprano Renée Fleming stars as the mythological sorceress, Armida, one of the greatest virtuoso roles from the bel canto repertory. Fleming is joined by Lawrence Brownlee, who sings Armida's chief love interest, Rinaldo, and five more tenors in the roles of the crusader knights. José Manuel Zapata portrays Rinaldo's deadly rival Gernando. John Osborn sings Goffredo, and Barry Banks, Kobie van Rensburg, and Yegishe Manucharyan are the knights Carlo, Ubaldo, and Eustazio, respectively. Riccardo Frizza conducts. Sets and costumes are by Richard Hudson, and the lighting is by Brian MacDevitt. Graciela Daniele is the choreographer, in her Met debut, and Daniel Pelzig is the assistant choreographer. Performances run through May 12. The matinee on May 1 will be seen worldwide as part of The Met: Live in HD series.

"We are staging this highly challenging opera expressly for Renée Fleming, who has the extraordinarily rare artistic qualities - both vocally and dramatically - to meet the requirements of such a demanding work," said Peter Gelb, the Met's general manager.

Having triumphed as Armida at the Rossini Festival in Pesaro earlier in her career, Fleming again welcomes the opportunity to perform this rare work. "It is a tale of feminine seduction," Fleming said. "And that, in fact, is Armida's real power, with a dark and desperate side. When Armida is herself undone by love, she has our complete sympathy." The vivid set design features such flourishes as giant birds and a field of red poppies. "We're trying to be deliberately theatrical and to use simple methods of old-time theater in the way the opera instructs," commentEd Zimmerman. "I think all the theatrical enchantment that the libretto and score call for-the power of change and transformation-is a mirror of the sorceress's power. It's saturated with that."

Gioachino Rossini's Armida is based on 16th-century Italian poet Torquato Tasso's epic Gerusalemme Liberata ("Jerusalem Delivered"), a tale of the scorned seductress that has inspired more than 100 operas and ballets, including Handel's Rinaldo and Haydn's Armida. Rossini's opera is particularly noted for its six tenor roles, which were shared by four singers for the opera's 1817 premiere at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples. (At the Met, six different tenors will sing these roles.) Armida garnered popular attention when Maria Callas sang the title role in Florence in 1952. Next season, most cast members will return in the revival of Armida. The opera's Met premiere production is a gift of the Sybil B. Harrington Endowment Fund. Yves Saint Laurent sponsors the gala premiere benefit for Armida.

About the Performers
With the title role of Armida, American soprano Renée Fleming takes on a Rossini opera for the first time in her Met career. Earlier this season, Fleming starred in the role of the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier, hailed by the New York Times as a "vocally captivating performance (that) was daringly subtle." Last season, Fleming was the first woman to headline an Opening Night Gala at the Met, singing in staged scenes from La Traviata, Manon, and Capriccio. She also sang the title roles in a new production of Massenet's Thaïs and in a revival of Dvo?ak's Rusalka. Both the Opening Night Gala and Thaïs were shown live in HD. Fleming, who made her Met debut in 1991 as Countess Almaviva in Le Nozze di Figaro, portrayed Rosina in the world premiere of Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles later that year, and has appeared in three other Met premieres: in the title role of Floyd's Susannah (1999), as Imogene in Bellini's Il Pirata (2002), and in the title role of Handel's Rodelinda (2004). Her numerous other roles at the Met include Tatiana in Eugene Onegin, which was transmitted live in HD (2007); Donna Anna in Don Giovanni; Pamina in Die Zauberflöte; Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte; Desdemona in Otello; the Countess Almaviva in Le Nozze di Figaro; the title role in Arabella; Marguerite in Faust; and Ellen Orford in Peter Grimes. Fleming is also familiar to audiences as the host of many Live in HD transmissions, as well as the 2009 documentary film about the Met's National Council Auditions, The Audition. This season, she hosts HD transmissions of Aida, Carmen, Simon Boccanegra, and Hamlet. Fleming has also frequently appeared in concerts with the MET Orchestra both in New York and on tour.

Bel canto specialist Lawrence Brownlee, who made his company debut in 2007 as Count Almaviva in IL Barbiere di Siviglia, adds the role of Rinaldo to his Met repertoire. "His lyric voice falls on the ear with unusual sweetness," the Associated Press critic wrote of the tenor's performance. "He has mastered the bel canto technique of fast runs, trills and ornamentation that Rossini requires, and stopped the show with his acrobatics." Earlier this season, Brownlee performed Tonio in La Fille du Régiment, and last season the American tenor played Prince Ramiro opposite El?na Garan?a in La Cenerentola, seen live in HD. Brownlee, a 2001 winner of the National Council Auditions, performs with major companies in a repertoire that includes not just Almaviva (San Diego Opera, Vienna State Opera) and Ramiro (Houston Grand Opera, La Scala), but also Narciso in Il Turco in Italia (Deutsche Oper, Berlin), and Arturo in I Puritani (Seattle Opera).

John Osborn, a 1994 winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, is a graduate of the Met's Lindemann Young Artist Development Program. He made his 1996 Met debut as a Jew in Salome, appeared as Sergio in a new production of Fedora the same year, and has also performed Maintop in Billy Budd, Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni, and Count Almaviva in IL Barbiere di Siviglia. Elsewhere this season Osborn made his Houston Grand Opera debut as Nemorino in L'Elisir d'Amore, and performs Léopold in La Juive (Netherlands Opera), Don Ramiro in La Cenerentola (Zurich Opera), and Lindoro in L'Italiana in Algeri (Maggio Musicale, Florence).

José Manuel Zapata, who sings Gernando, made his Met debut in 2008 as Count Almaviva in IL Barbiere di Siviglia. Recent engagements for the Spanish tenor include Dorvil in La Scala di Seta (Pesaro's Rossini Theater), Argirio in a new production of Tancredi (Regio, Turin), and Don Igi el Indiano in La Cabeza del Bautista (Barcelona's Liceu). Zapata made his operatic debut in 2001 as Albazar in Il Turco in Italia, and has performed leading parts at the Teatre Liceu in Barcelona, the Teatro Real in Madrid, the Deutsche Oper Berlin, the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, the National Theatre in Warsaw, and the prestigious Rossini Festival in Pesaro, Italy.

The role of Carlo marks Barry Banks's third Met role debut this season, following Count Almaviva in IL Barbiere di Siviglia (a role the British tenor recently reprised in a last-minute substitution), and the Italian Singer in Der Rosenkavalier. Banks made his Met debut as Flute in the 1996 Met premiere of A Midsummer Night's Dream, and his varied Met repertoire also includes Pedrillo in Die Entführung aus dem Serail, the Fisherman in Le Rossignol, the Shepherd in Oedipus Rex, Lindoro in L'Italiana in Algeri, Prince Ramiro in La Cenerentola, and Tonio in La Fille du Régiment. In 2006, Banks appeared as Ernesto in the new production of Don Pasquale. Last season, he appeared as Elvino in La Sonnambula, and Nemorino in L'Elisir d'Amore.

Kobie van Rensburg makes his Met role debut as Ubaldo. Van Rensburg made his Met debut as Grimoaldo in the company premiere of Rodelinda, and has also performed the title role in Mozart's Idomeneo. The South African tenor has a wide repertoire that encompasses Mozart, Wagner, Johann Strauss, and Verdi. His recent engagements include Eumete in Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria (Teatro Real, Madrid), Pane in Calisto (Bavarian State Opera), and Loge in Der Ring des Nibelungen (Seattle Opera).

Riccardo Frizza made his Met debut last season conducting Rigoletto, drawing performances from the Met orchestra that the New York Times described as "lively and full-bodied." Frizza returned to the Met podium later in the season to conduct Il Trovatore. Next season he will again conduct Armida in the production's revival. From 1994 to 2000, Frizza was a conductor-in-residence with the Symphonic Orchestra of Brescia. Frizza has worked with major orchestras and opera companies around the world. His opera appearances include Il Turco in Italia with the Berlin State Opera, La Fille du Régiment with Houston Grand Opera, Aida with the Seattle Opera, La Cenerentola with the Bavarian State Opera, Luisa Miller with the Leipzig Opera, and L'Italiana in Algeri with the Washington National Opera.

About the Production Team
Mary Zimmerman, who calls Armida "a buried treasure, a box of jewels," returns to the Met for her third new production of a bel canto opera in as many seasons. Zimmerman made her debut with the 2007 season-opening production of her Lucia di Lammermoor and followed with La Sonnambula last season, both starring Natalie Dessay and seen worldwide live in HD. Zimmerman is the Manilow Resident Director of the Goodman Theatre and a member of Lookingglass Theatre Company, both in Chicago. She is also an artistic associate of the Seattle Repertory Theatre and a professor of performance studies at Northwestern University. Zimmerman's other opera productions include Philip Glass's Akhnaten (seen in Strasbourg and at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, where she is an Artistic Associate), the 2002 world premiere of Philip Glass's Galileo Galilei, for which she also co-wrote the libretto (Goodman Theatre, London's Barbican Centre, Brooklyn Academy Of Music), and Mozart's Die Zauberflöte (Chicago Opera Theatre). In 2002, Zimmerman received a Tony Award for Best Direction for her original adaptation of Ovid's Metamorphoses, and in 1998 she won the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship. A prolific adaptor-director, Zimmerman's theatrical works include The Odyssey, Arabian Nights, and The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, which have been seen in theaters throughout the country and abroad. Zimmerman's production of Armida will return to the Met in the 2010-11 season.

Set and costume designer Richard Hudson made his Met debut with designs for Elijah Moshinsky's new production of Samson et Dalila in 1998. The Zimbabwe-born award winner-he took home the Tony for his stage design for The Lion King -works worldwide in theater, dance, and opera for such companies as Britain's Old Vic and Royal Shakespeare Company, La Scala, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, and the Vienna State Opera.

Lighting designer Brian MacDevitt made his Met debut in 2008 with the company premiere of Doctor Atomic. The winner of four Tony Awards (Into the Woods, The Pillowman, The Coast of Utopia, and Joe Turner's Come and Gone), MacDevitt's recent Broadway credits include lighting design for A Behanding in Spokane, Race, Blithe Spirit, Accent on Youth, Speed-the-Plow, and Cymbeline. MacDevitt is an associate professor of lighting design at the University of Maryland.
Graciela Daniele makes her Met debut with the choreography for Armida. Daniele has been honored with multiple Tony and Drama Desk nominations. Among her theatrical credits are Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life, Annie Get Your Gun, Ragtime, The Goodbye Girl, Zorba, The Rink, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, The Pirates of Penzance, Little Fish, and Pal Joey. Her film work includes Pirates, Mighty Aphrodite, Everyone Says I Love You, and Bullets Over Broadway.
Assistant choreographer Daniel Pelzig served as the choreographer for last season's new production of La Sonnambula. Pelzig made his Met debut choreographing Mary Zimmerman's new production of Lucia di Lammermoor and also that season created the dances for Stephen Wadsworth's new production of Iphigénie en Tauride. Elsewhere, he has choreographed Janá?ek's Cunning Little Vixen at Houston Grand Opera and Johann Strauss's Die Fledermaus at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Pelzig is the former resident choreographer for Santa Fe Opera.

Live Broadcasts Around the World
Armida will be experienced by millions of people around the world this season on the radio and the internet, through distribution platforms the Met has established with various media partners.
The May 1 matinee, to be hosted by Deborah Voigt, will be transmitted to over 1,000 movie theaters in 44 countries worldwide as part of The Met: Live in HD series.
The April 12 premiere as well as the April 16, 19, 27, May 1, and 11 performances will be broadcast live on the Metropolitan Opera Radio on SIRIUS channel 78 and XM channel 79.
The May 1 matinee will also be broadcast live over the Toll Brothers-Metropolitan Opera International Radio Network.
The April 12 premiere will also be streamed live via RealNetworks internet streaming on the Met's website www.metopera.org

About the Met
Under the leadership of General Manager Peter Gelb and Music Director James Levine, the Met has a series of bold initiatives underway that are designed to broaden its audience and revitalize the company's repertory. The Met has made a commitment to presenting modern masterpieces alongside the classic repertory, with highly theatrical productions featuring the greatest opera stars in the world.

The Met's 2009-10 season features eight new productions, four of which are Met premieres. Opening night was a new production of Tosca starring Karita Mattila, conducted by Levine and directed by Luc Bondy. The four Met premieres are: Janá?ek's From the House of the Dead, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen and directed by Patrice Chéreau, both in Met debuts; Verdi's Attila starring Ildar Abdrazakov, conducted by Riccardo Muti and directed by Pierre Audi, with set and costume design by Miuccia Prada and the firm Herzog & de Meuron, all in their Met debuts; Shostakovich's The Nose featuring Paulo Szot, conducted by Valery Gergiev and directed and designed by William Kentridge in his Met debut; and Rossini's Armida with Renée Fleming, conducted by Riccardo Frizza and directed by Mary Zimmerman. Other new productions are Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann starring Joseph Calleja, Anna Netrebko, and Alan Held, conducted by Levine and directed by Bartlett Sher; Carmen with El?na Garan?a and Roberto Alagna, conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin and directed by Richard Eyre, both in Met debuts; and Thomas's Hamlet with Marlis Petersen and Simon Keenlyside, conducted by Louis Langrée and directed by Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser in their Met debuts.

The Met's 2010-11 season will feature seven new productions, including two company premieres (John Adams's Nixon in China and Rossini's Le Comte Ory), as well as the first two installments of a new production of Wagner's epic Der Ring des Nibelungen, conducted by James Levine and directed by Robert Lepage (Das Rheingold and Die Walküre). Also featured will be new productions of three repertory classics- Boris Godunov conducted by Valery Gergiev and directed by Peter Stein, Don Carlo conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin and directed by Nicholas Hytner, and La Traviata conducted by Gianandrea Noseda and directed by Willy Decker. John Adams makes his Met conducting debut with Nixon in China, with Peter Sellars making his Met directorial debut. Maurizio Benini conducts Le Comte Ory, with Bartlett Sher directing his third production here following his recent successful stagings of IL Barbiere di Siviglia and Les Contes d'Hoffmann.
Building on its 78-year radio broadcast history-currently heard over the Toll Brothers-Metropolitan Opera International Radio Network-the Met now uses advanced media distribution platforms and state-of-the-art technology to attract new audiences and reach millions of opera fans around the world.

The Emmy and Peabody Award-winning The Met: Live in HD series returns for its fourth season in 2009-10 with nine transmissions, beginning October 10 with the new production of Tosca and ending with the new production of Rossini's Armida on May 1. The productions are seen in more than 1000 theaters in 44 countries around the world and last season sold more than 1.8 million tickets. These performances began airing on PBS in March 2008, and thirteen HD performances are now available on DVD. The Magic Flute was released by the Met and is available at the newly renovated Met Opera Shop. In addition, two classic Met performances from 1978 have recently been released by the Met: Otello, conducted by Levine with Jon Vickers and Renata Scotto; and Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci conducted by Levine, with Tatiana Troyanos and Plácido Domingo in the first part of the double bill and Teresa Stratas, Plácido Domingo, and Sherrill Milnes in the latter. The Met: Live in HD series is made possible by a generous grant from the Neubauer Family Foundation. Bloomberg L.P. is the global corporate sponsor of The Met: Live in HD.
HD Live in Schools, the Met's program offering free opera transmissions to New York City schools in partnership with the New York City Department of Education and the Metropolitan Opera Guild, continues for a third season. This season, for the second consecutive year the program will reach public school students and teachers in 18 cities and communities nationwide. HD Live in Schools is made possible by Bank of America.

Continuing its innovative use of electronic media to reach a global audience, the Metropolitan Opera last season introduced Met Player, a new subscription service that makes much of the company's extensive video and audio catalog of full-length performances available to the public for the first time online in exceptional, state-of-the-art quality. The new service currently offers more than 200 historic audio recordings, and almost 100 full-length opera videos are available, including 28 of the company's acclaimed The Met: Live in HD transmissions, known for their extraordinary sound and picture quality. New content, including HD productions and archival broadcasts, are added monthly.

Metropolitan Opera Radio on SIRIUS XM Radio is a subscription-based audio entertainment service broadcasting an unprecedented number of live performances each week throughout the Met's entire season, as well as rare historical performances, newly restored and remastered, spanning the Met's 78-year broadcast history.

In addition to providing audio recordings through the Met on Rhapsody on-demand service, the Met also presents free live audio streaming of performances on its website once every week during the opera season with support from RealNetworks®.

The Met is also host to the National Council Auditions, the culmination of a series of competitions in search of the next generation of opera singers, held annually in 45 districts and 15 regions throughout the United States and Canada. The National Council Auditions are sponsored by the Metropolitan Opera National Council. Given the reach of the auditions, the number of applicants, and the long tradition associated with them, the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions are considered the most prestigious in North America for singers seeking to launch an operatic career. The National Council Audition process was recently captured in an acclaimed documentary by award-winning filmmaker Susan Froemke, The Audition, which was shown on PBS and released on DVD.

The company's groundbreaking commissioning program in partnership with New York's Lincoln Center Theater (LCT) provides renowned composers and playwrights with the resources to create and develop new works at the Met and at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theater. The Met's partnership with LCT is part of the company's larger initiative to commission new operas from contemporary composers, present modern masterpieces alongside the classic repertory, and provide a venue for artists to nurture their work. The first work to be produced from this program will be Nico Muhly's debut opera (as yet untitled), set to a libretto by Craig Lucas. A co-production with the English National Opera, the opera will be directed by Bartlett Sher, debuting at the ENO's London Coliseum in June 2011 and at the Met during its 2013-14 season.

The Met audience development initiatives include Open House Dress Rehearsals, which are free and open to the public; the Arnold and Marie Schwartz Gallery Met, which exhibits contemporary visual art; the immensely successful Agnes Varis and Karl Leichtman Rush Ticket program; and an annual Holiday Presentation for families.