Thursday, 29 April 2010

No elephants ! Aida at the Royal Opera House

 It's time Verdi got attention in Aida, not elephants.The blue elephant in Graham Vick's Tamerlano almost stole the show, but elephants were pointedly banned from this new production of Aida at the Royal Opera House, London. Instead, Verdi's music takes pride of place, revealed in full glory.

Pre-performance publicity indicated that this would not be a stereotype production, but minimalist it certainly was not. Abstraction in many ways suits Aida, an opera of secrets and mysteries.

Large structures loom over the cast, for this is a drama where individuals are pitted against overwhelming forces. The simple, strong lines also permit a new kind of staging, created from light and colour.

No elephants, no circus. Instead the focus shifts onto Verdi's music itself, revealing its magnificence without distraction.  How glorious it is, heard as music!   Indeed, it's because Aida is so vivid orchestrally that we've become accustomed to associating it with grand panoramas. But music is in itself abstract. This time, the orchestral colours can be seen as well as heard. Shades of rose and ochre, scarab and peacock, amethyst and sand, glow iridescently, transforming as the music develops. Synaesthetes may overload, but this abstraction is surprisingly expressive, given the connection between visual image and  music.

Nicola Luisotti conducted with flair..Tempi were on the fast side, but better that than too slow. Freed from the restraints of cumbersome staging, the orchestra's pace matched the nervous energy in the drama. Violent moods, violent music. In the scene at the Temple of Vulcan, the Egyptians are working themselves up to a frenzy. Heightened emotion in the orchestra but less so in the dancing. The Rite of Spring style choreography would not have been out of place, but perhaps too much to expect. Strange,  distorted shapes hang from the sky, like the corpses of the dead. When the prisoners shuffle in, they look like they've been in battle. As Aida (Micaela Carosi) reminds us, the Triumphal March may be triumph for some, but defeat for others.

In the third act, when Aida sings Qui Radamès verrà, Carosi stands before a black and white panel, as stark as the dilemma before her. But when Micaela Carosi sings, the lusciousness of her music translates into washes of blue and green, evoking the dark, swift Nile and "cieli azzurri" above, her Eygptian present and memories of her native land. Carosi is a very experienced Aida. Her middle voice is secure, so the extremes in the part feel natural, rather than over-coloured. Aida is constrained, all around, by secrecy and the need for stealth, so she's a strong personality, and alert.

Marcelo Álvarez as Radames is a more conventional portrayal. He hectors, but then, Radames is a headstrong hero, eager for battle, but ennobled by the grace of love. His finest moment comes as he and Aida face death, when his voice softens and takes on a gentler tone. Marianne Cornetti was a forceful, forthright Amneris, and Marco Vratogna's Amonasro suitably subdued.

Jennifer Tipton deserves much credit for designing the magnificent light show. David McVicar proves that abstraction doesn't mean minimal, and is just as valid musically as circus gimmicks. Complete review with more photos coming up soon in Opera Today.
Photo COPYRIGHT Bill Cooper, Royal Opera House


John McDermott said...

Just so people who read this review are put at ease that this is only one review and in my opinion does not reflect that vast majority who were unfortunate to witness this performance.
This was a dreadful production in terms of staging and direction
If not for the chorus and orchestra, I would have demanded my money back and be assured I was not alone in this view.
The sets did not place the audience in Egypt nor did it provide any relevance or context.
The direction focused on some weird sexual interpretation that detracted rather than add value.
The author of this review states the minimalist sets enhanced the singing, yet staging helps the audience through the storyline.
This staging failed in every respect by NOT providing context and linkage from one scene to another, so why have any sets at all? ROH would have saved money by just introducing the music and songs - If they had done so it would have only been marginally worse than what the audience had to endure. Shame on you and shame on ROH for supporting such a LAZY and ill conceived production.
I cancelled my "friendship" with ROH following this performance, not because it was so bad, but because they did not reply to my comments - not even an acknowledgement which is simply arrogance personified

Doundou Tchil said...

"Shame on you"???? No one will have the same opinions but everyone has the right to an opinion whether you decide they can or cannot.

You are the 9one with "arrogance problems".