Last year, the Salzburg Festival staged the mother of all Mozart blowouts: It was his 250th birthday, you know. This year, things are back to normal. Mozart is still a major presence in his hometown — as lovely as ever mid the Austrian alps. But other composers are accorded the spotlight, too.
One of them is Haydn, whose opera "Armida" is being performed. We don't think of Haydn as an opera composer: We think of him for symphonies, string quartets — even oratorios. But Haydn wrote some 15 operas, being an all-purpose composer, like most greats.
"Armida" is based on Tasso's "Gerusalemme liberata" (" Jerusalem Delivered"), a tale of the Crusades. It involves war, love, loyalty, betrayal — perpetual themes of opera, as of human life. Time was, everyone and his brother composed an opera on Tasso's epic: Lully, Handel, Gluck, Rossini . . .
And if I may sneak in a recommendation for your CD player (or iPod): In the 1970s, the soprano Jessye Norman recorded "Armida" with Antal Dorati, a conductor who championed Haydn. Don't think of Miss Norman as a Haydn singer? Ah, you should, you should.
The Salzburg Festival has assembled a superb cast for "Armida." They themselves should be recorded. The cast features not only one top lyric tenor, but two: Michael Schade (Rinaldo) and Richard Croft (Ubaldo). It's unusual that they sing together — that there is a town, so to speak, big enough for the both of them. This is cause for celebration.
On Tuesday night, Mr. Schade was creamy, accurate, incisive, smart — in other words, his typical exemplary self. A critic runs out of words. Mr. Schade was never better than when singing soft and unaccompanied. He is a supremely confident fellow, with much to be supremely confident about. And his acting was enveloping.