Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The ballet scene - Armida

When I talked about Armida in my last entry, I mentioned the ballet scene as something that needs to be seen so you can understand its obvious as well as hidden meanings. The ballet scene is not subtle. As Armida charms the man she loves; Rinaldo, and brings him to a deserted island, she uses her magic to build him a pleasure palace, full of countless sensual delicacies. She sings to him, then invites a ballet performance in his honor. At the beginning Rinaldo is in his army suit, but before the ballet scene takes place this suit is taken off and he's dressed in ruffling clothes. Smitten, he sits with her to watch the ballet performance. The ballet starts with a young man in his army suit, among his soldiers. Nymphs appear in front of him, and start making all kinds of seductive moves and gestures. He gradually gives up his stern "facade" and runs after them, only to find them elusive and unreachable. Whenever he tires, they entice him again with the illusion of being reachable, only to make him run after them yet again. He turns into a pathetic spineless man going after the nymphs across the stage. Gradually, some of them disappear into doors, only to be replaced with demons or devils in skirts. What is really pathetic is that he runs after these devilish creatures as if they were real women, even though we can all see that they're not the beautiful ethereal nymphs anymore. Eventually, the nymphs bring a wreath and place it on the young soldier's head, crowning him, perhaps as their "idiot". After the dance concludes with them all over him, some of the nymph dancers take the wreath from the soldier dancer, walk over to Rinaldo, and place the wreath on his head. He's smug and smiling as if he won a grand prize!
Now my initial take on this scene was that it was too obvious! What was Armida's point of showing him his fate with with such a crude display? Why would a woman rub such a sketch in her beloved's face? Then, as I began to discuss glimpses of the scene with my friend whom I watched Armida with, revelations began to come to my mind. A man's take on the ballet is that it's in-your-face mockery of a man in love and how robbed off his will he becomes. Armida shows Rinaldo -in a very direct message that leaves no room for symbolism or misinterpretation- what is happening to him and what will happen when he becomes more and more smitten with her love, and he's still smiling! She blindfolds his mind completely! It was like telling someone that you'll hit him on the head, and you do hit him on the head, and he doesn't dock for cover, and he's smiling as the bruises color!
I have serious doubts about the degree to which men can be like that, except maybe in front of a real beauty. Otherwise men are very cautious not to fall head over heals in a woman's "love trap", either because they don't want to lose control of their lives or because they're watchful of the poison that can be in the honey. Although I read about lots of men pining over real life beauties, I doubt this is because they're in love. The image I have of a man, a real man who's in love, is that of a man who's rough around the edges and full of ambition and plans, but kind and caring and subtle when it comes to his beloved. A man's real love is full of small gestures and actions and occasional words that are not empty, but can be cliches, because he knows a woman loves that. He will not be ashamed to show her that he's weak in front of her, but even in his weakness he is strong and in charge. Maybe Armida was a woman who deserved to be loved, but Rinaldo's kind of love does not command respect for him, even if he did truly love her and was not just taken by her beauty and charm.
The picture that Rossini paints is that women are demons in disguise! And even a noble gift as love is coated with mockery and deceit. Although Armida loves her man deeply, and goes as far as building him a pleasure palace so that he'll have whatever his heart desires, she openly makes fun of his gullibility, and as a result comes across as cruel. Armida spares no effort in making Rinaldo happy, yet that does not grant her absolution of the sin that is stealing her man away from his obligations.
Rossini wants to convey the message that sometimes love makes a man an idiot! And he hates this fact, and will make Armida pay for it dearly at the end. It is not a struggle between the pagan forces and the christian faith, it is a struggle between the woman's desire to own her man and the man's quest to stay free. There is no winner in this battle, because a woman will never "own" a man forever; it is a matter of time before the oblivious opens his eyes and starts looking at the facts. A man will never stay free forever; he won't feel alive. Ultimately they both suffer; he loses the warmth of her love, and she loses the essence of her existence.
If we look more deeply, more revelations will surface, but suffice it to say that as much as the ballet scene was funny and made the audience laugh, it was as much disturbing and full of conflicting messages. It is all part of the web that is the relationship between a man and a woman, and the struggle between freedom and shackles, and the balance between love and duty.

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