This is the last year of Garsington Opera's tenure in its quirky medieval manor – next year it moves to the Getty family's home at Wormley. And it's going out with a flourish, giving one of Rossini's most exotic operas its first British staging. Indeed, Armida was long regarded as uncastable, so great are its vocal demands. Rossini wrote the title role for the star Neapolitan soprano Isabella Colbran, who had become his wife; he also included six tenor roles, of which three are famously hard to sing.
David Parry, who will conduct, pays tribute to the work of the conservatoires in training young singers so well that this work can at last now be cast: "Singers are much more musically literate than they were when I started my career – and for music like this you need to be." He will have no truck with the notion that Rossini's virtuosity is just empty show: "It's all in the service of the drama. This work is classically structured, yet there's a nascent Romanticism coming strongly through. And there's clearly a public for it."
The staging will be spare, he says: "Armida won't descend on a cloud, in a chariot drawn by dragons, as the stage directions require. The magic will be more Oriental and suggestive." All he's praying for now is good weather – this is open-air opera – and not too many aeroplanes during quiet bits.
From 5 to 29 June in rep (garsingtonopera.org)