Tragédie en musique in a prologue and five acts by Jean‐Baptiste Lully to a libretto by Philippe Quinault after Torquato Tasso's epic poem Gerusalemme liberata; Paris, Opéra, 15 February 1686.
Singers at the première included Marie Le Rochois (Armide) and Dumesnil (Renaud).
The last tragedy by Lully and Quinault was regarded during the 18th century as their masterpiece. It is their only opera to concentrate on the sustained psychological development of an individual character. According to Le Cerf de la Viéville, it was known as ‘the ladies' opera’, presumably a reference to Armide's internal conflict.
Louis XIV chose the subject, but because of illnesses and scheduling clashes, the initial production had no court première (although unstaged chamber performances were sponsored by the dauphine). Apart from Le Rochois and Dumesnil, the principal singers at the Paris première are uncertain; they probably included either Jean Dun or François Beaumavielle, Moreau, Mlle Desmatins and Frere. Armide was revived regularly at the Paris Opéra between 1692 and 1766, the 1745–7 revival being a joint production with the court at Versailles. By the end of the 17th century the last scene of Act 4 (the Ubalde‐Mélisse encounter) had been permanently cut; for the production of 1761 François Francoeur comprehensively reworked Armide to conform with contemporary taste; and in 1766 Pierre‐Montan Berton rewrote the Act 5 divertissement. Between 1686 and 1751 Armide was produced repeatedly in Marseilles, Brussels and Lyons; it had single productions in The Hague, Lunéville, Berlin (with revisions by Carl Heinrich Graun) and perhaps Metz; and there were apparently concert performances in Rome on two occasions. There have been a few modern productions.
A palace Glory and Wisdom, assisted by their followers, celebrate their relative power over an unnamed hero (Louis XIV): in time of war Glory holds the upper hand, while Wisdom dominates in peacetime. Their hero has invited them to watch Renaud follow Glory away from the palace where he loved Armide. A comment on a ‘monster’ that the hero has vanquished is thought to refer to the Edict of Nantes (revoked in 1685).
A great square, decorated by an arch of triumph In an extended passage set as recitative and brief airs, Phénice and Sidonie congratulate Armide on using her womanly charms and her power over the underworld to capture almost all the Crusaders in Godefroi's camp. Armide's eventual entrance into the conversation, set as simple modulatory recitative, begins with an affective progression to the relative minor. Titon du Tillet wrote that ‘in the moment when Mademoiselle Rochois spread her arms and raised her head with a majestic air, singingJe ne triomphe pas du plus vaillant de tousL'indomptable Renaud échappe à mon courroux. her two confidantes seemed, so to speak, eclipsed; one no longer saw anybody but her on the stage, and she seemed to fill it alone’. Renaud, the most famous knight from Godefroi's camp, has eluded Armide; in powerful accompanied recitative she tells Phénice and Sidonie of a terrible dream, in which she fell in love with Renaud as he was about to kill her. When Hidraot says he wishes to see his niece marry, Armide expresses interest only in ‘the conqueror of Renaud (if someone can be that)’. Rameau later wrote that by setting the parenthetical phrase in the subdominant key – the flat side, representing weakness – Lully showed Armide's ambivalence. Neither the suggestion that Renaud is unconquerable nor the bad dream is in Tasso. Still trying to reassure Armide, the people of Damascus praise her beauty and glorious victories; the divertissement begins with a large‐scale bass air and chorus (‘Armide est encore plus aimable’) and continues with an intricately organized set of sarabandes en rondeau. When Aronte brings word that Renaud has single‐handedly freed the captive knights, all vow revenge.