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Armide (Gluck)

Armide is an opera by Christoph Willibald Gluck, set to a libretto by Philippe Quinault. Gluck's fifth production for the Parisian stage and the composer's own favourite among his works, it was first performed on 23 September 1777 by the Académie Royale de Musique in the second Salle du Palais-Royal in Paris.

Background and performance history

Gluck set the same libretto Philippe Quinault had written for Lully in 1686, based on Torquato Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata (Jerusalem Delivered). Gluck seemed at ease in facing French traditions head-on when he composed Armide. Lully and Quinault were the very founders of serious opera in France and Armide was generally recognized as their masterpiece, so it was a bold move on Gluck's part to write new music to Quinault's words. A similar attempt to write a new opera to the libretto of Thésée by Jean-Joseph de Mondonville in 1765 had ended in disaster, with audiences demanding it be replaced by Lully's original. By utilizing Armide, Gluck challenged the long-standing and apparently inviolable ideals of French practice, and in the process he revealed these values capable of renewal through "modern" compositional sensitivities. Critical response and resultant polemic resulted in one of those grand imbroglios common to French intellectual life. Gluck struck a nerve in French sensitivities, and whereas Armide was not one of his more popular works, it remained a critical touchstone in the French operatic tradition and was warmly praised by Berlioz in his Memoirs. Gluck also set a minor fashion for resetting Lully/Quinault operas: Gluck's rival Piccinni followed his example with Roland in 1778 and Atys in 1780; in the same year, Philidor produced a new Persée; and Gossec offered his version of Thésée in 1782. Gluck himself is said to have been working on an opera based on Roland, but he abandoned it when he heard Piccinni had taken on the same libretto.

Sketch for the second acte, for a representation at the Paris Opera, 1905

Armide remained on the repertoire of the Parisian Académie Nationale de Musique throughout the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, with revivals held in 1805, 1811, 1818, 1819 and 1825. A new production directed by Émile Perrin in 1866 featured sets by Édouard Desplechin (Act II), Auguste Alfred Rubé and Philippe Chaperon (Act III), and Charles-Antoine Cambon (Acts IV and V). Another big-budget production was staged at the Opéra on 12 April 1905, starring Lucienne Bréval in the title role, Alice Verlet, Agustarello Affre, Dinh Gilly, and Geneviève Vix.[1] The costumes were designed by Charles Bianchini and Charles Bétout; the sets were by Cambon's student Eugène Carpezat (Act I), Amable (Acts II and V), and Marcel Jambon and Alexandre Bailly (Acts III and IV).

The Opéra's 1905 production was followed on 7 November 1905 by a big-budget staging at the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels. Overseen by Gluck connoisseur François-Auguste Gevaert, it featured Félia Litvinne in the title role, costumes by the symbolist artist Fernand Khnopff, and eight sets by Albert Dubosq. Hugely successful, this sumptuous production enjoyed a first run of forty performances, with subsequent revivals in 1909, 1924 and 1948.

The Metropolitan Opera staged the work for the opening of its 1910–1911 season. Toscanini conducted a cast led by Olive Fremstad, Louise Homer and Enrico Caruso.[2]


Jean-Joseph Rousseau as Renaud in Gluck's Armide, Paris c. 1780
Roles, voice types, premiere cast
Role Voice type Premiere cast, 23 September 1777[3]
Armide, a sorceress,
Princess of Damascus
soprano Rosalie Levasseur
Renaud, a Crusader haute-contre Joseph Legros
Phénice, Armide's confidant soprano M.lle LeBourgeois
Sidonie, Armide's confidant soprano M.lle Châteauneuf
Hidraot, a magician,
King of Damascus
baritone Nicolas Gélin
Hate contralto[4] Céleste [Célestine] Durancy [5]
The Danish Knight, a Crusader tenor Étienne Lainez (also spelled Lainé)
Ubalde, a Crusader baritone Henri Larrivée
A demon in the form of Lucinde,
the Danish Knight's beloved
soprano Anne-Marie-Jeanne Gavaudan "l'aînée"[6]
A demon in the form of Mélisse,
Ubalde's beloved
soprano Antoinette Cécile de Saint-Huberty
Aronte, in charge of Armide's
baritone Georges Durand
Artémidore, a Crusader tenor Thirot
A naiad soprano Anne-Marie-Jeanne Gavaudan "l'aînée"[7]
A shepherdess soprano Anne-Marie-Jeanne Gavaudan "l'aînée"[6]
A pleasure soprano Antoinette Cécile de Saint-Huberty[7]
people of Damascus, nymphs, shepherds and shepherdesses, suite of Hate, demons, Pleasures, coryphaei


Rinaldo in the Garden of Armida (1763), painting by Fragonard

For the storyline, see Armide by Lully. Gluck kept the libretto unchanged, although he cut the allegorical prologue and added a few lines of his own devising to the end of Act Three. Similarly, the roles and the disposition of the voices are the same as in Lully's opera.

Ubalde et le chevalier Danois by Louis-Jean-François Lagrenée, (Exhibited at Paris, Salon, 1785, no. 3)




  1. ^ Giroud, Vincent, liner notes for Marston 52059-2, Early French Tenors, Volume 1: Émile Scaramberg, Pierre Cornubert, and Julien Leprestre, accessed December 3, 2009 Archived June 18, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ Anthony Tommasini (November 19, 1999). "Opera Review; Love, Alas, Not Sorcery, Was Her True Calling". The New York Times.
  3. ^ Roles and premiere cast from The New Kobbés Opera Book; Jeremy Hayes, Armide (ii), in The New Grove Dictionary, I, p. 202; Pitou, p. 52; Lajarte, p. 291; Casaglia, Gherardo (2005). "Armide, 23 September 1777". L'Almanacco di Gherardo Casaglia (in Italian).
  4. ^ This role, though often ascribed to the contralto voice, was notated, as usual in the period French opera, in the soprano clef (cf. original printed score).
  5. ^ stage name of Madeleine-Céleste Fieuzal (or Fieusacq) de Frossac
  6. ^ a b Source: "Mercure de France" (October 1777), as cited by Arthur Pougin (Figures d'Opéra-comique, Paris, Tresse 1875, pp. 151–152; accessible for free online in
  7. ^ a b Source: Armide. Tragédie Lyrique de Quinault (Partition Piano et Chant Réduite et Annotée par F.-A. Gevaert), Paris/Bruxelles, Lemoine, 1902, p. XVII (a copy at Internet Archive).


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Armide (Gluck)
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