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The Sixth Production in Six Months

Tuesday, 7 May 2013 , ora 9.08
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Almost unbelievably, the Iași National Opera presented the sixth premiere of the season, with an astounding work rhythm both for the ensemble and for the technicians and everyone involved in 'building' a production - the orchestra, the choir and even part of the soloists, who move from one style to another, changing manners of singing and rehearsing for Les Indes galantes and The Trojan Women at the same time, and then for musical The Sound of Music and opera Aida, while the ballet dancers were preparing D'ale carnavalului and Giselle.

In an attempt to honour 'The Verdi Year' with a massive production both in music and direction, manager Beatrice Rancea chose Aida, a score that returned to the theatre's repertoire after a few years of absence, in a new staging by director Andras Kurthy, a guest from Hungary, whom we appreciated last season for his charming staging of The Elixir of Love at the Hungarian Opera in Cluj. This time, he has kept a classical vision, drastically reducing the relationships between characters, letting quite a few mistakes slip, to my astonishment, mistakes which show a certain gaucherie in attitude or position, because, for instance, the Messenger enters in a calm and relaxed manner, not at all 'exhausted' by the long journey, addressing to the soldiers and the people, and not to the King, and then, in the 'Triumphal Scene', he is sitting on his throne, while his daughter, Amneris, is sitting on the steps, beside slave Aida, neither of them standing out among the attendants and the soldiers; in the next scene - the 'Nile Scene' - Amneris is wearing the blue dress she wore in the previous scene and she enters the temple to pray, but she comes out… in a smart black dress, suggesting that she changed her clothes… in the temple, while in the final scene, a narrow space, closed by a (stone) wall, represents the tomb where Radamès is doomed to lie, with the wall's 'gliding' as a surprise, letting Aida enter, as if there was an adjacent room to the stage etc. Why do the Egyptian children play 'dancing the hora', why do the freed 'prisoners' stay put, why doesn't Aida go towards them (although they come from her native country), choosing to caress the young Egyptians, why does Amonasro have a 'fearsome' wig, but he is wearing an elegant cloak, that was not affected by the fierce battle, why do some shields (with different designs for each 'troop') feature a symbol that reminds of… Woody? These are important details (which baffle the uninformed audience), but they can be easily corrected.

Keeping with the intention to create a titanic setting, the scene (by Laszlo Skekely) suggests massive buildings, perhaps made of marble (although the structures - columns, huge walls, stairs - are made of wood), which come closer or pull away to plot the area where the action takes place. For instance, the opening through which they bring the scaffolding in the 'Consecration Scene' is rather impressive; some of the priests, as well as the great priestess (soprano Ana-Maria Donose) stand on this scaffolding, with the priestess singing on stage, and not backstage, as it is often the case; besides, in the 'Judgement Scene', the priests and Radamès are in front of the audience, which is rather less common, yet not unprecedented. The moving of modules allows changing the location quickly, ensuring the fluency of the action. Another interesting element is moving the tomb-frame to the centre of the stage, making it seem as if it were going out of the monolith-wall of the putative temple. The atmosphere in the third act is nice, as well, with the background screen conveying the Nile with a floating boat, which the pharaoh's daughter steps out of, under a huge full moon; I don't understand why the natural semidarkness of the night is replaced by bright light, although the main characters should be hiding in the dark.

The costumes (designed by Zsuzsanna Kiss) are brightly coloured, showing a lot of 'gold' and glitter, in a heterogenous stylistic range, bringing together references of Ancient Egypt, perhaps, gorgeous evening gowns (worn by… Aida the slave, though!), white robes worn by priests, bright blue and turquoise garments for Amneris' attendants, bright red worn by the ballerinas who move gracefully and nicely, although their dance has no connection with the festivities in the Triumphal Scene, reminding us of the famous 'little mice' in 'Amneris' chamber' (choreography by Adrian Adrian Mureșan, at the Hungarian Opera in Cluj).

As for the music, one should note that the orchestra sounded very well, rigorously even, with a rich and varied expressive range, as well as a successful co-ordination between the pit and the stage that conductor David Crescenzi secured. The choir also sang rigorously and accurately (choirmaster Manuel Giugula), beside the children's choir 'Opera's Juniors' at times (trained by Raluca Zaharia). The ballet was charming in itself, with the many extras feeling at ease among the soldiers that fill the stage, especially during the Triumphal Scene, without making it seem too crowded, though. The trumpeters were excellent, too (playing instruments close to the age of the Old Kingdom), and the cast was balanced and of good quality. Although on the second evening the organizers wished all the soloists to belong to the theatre, health problems prompted a last moment change with soprano Carmen Gurban (who had also sang during the first evening), re-editing her success with Aida's difficult part. Her quality voice, led impeccably, with finesse, nobleness and dramatism, offered very beautiful moments during the arias, duos and tercets, rising brilliantly over the entire ensemble. Another arrival from Cluj was mezzosoprano Liliana Ciucă, reprising a character that has brought her great praise through time, embodying a temperamental Amneris, stylish, yet humane in the passion of her emotions, with her beautiful and equal voice keeping with her interpretive intentions convincingly. Taking the risky part of Radamès for the first time, tenor Cosmin Marcovici used his vast experience to solve the difficult weave with certain caution, yet with musical sense and involvement in portraying the hero. Baritone Oleg Ionese (from Chișinău) has a thundering voice, appropriate for a warrior treated as a savage, while Daniel Mateianu made an imposing King. Bass Dan Popescu was a pleasant surprise as Ramfis (with the presence and ample voice that the part requires), as well as tenor Andrei Apreotesei, who sang the part of the Messenger for the first time (with an assured and strong voice, of a very interesting potential).

An eclectic but unitary show (and that is not a paradox), offering a lot of splendour and 'weight', which was produced in record time, with an often exhausting effort, which the audience does not see, though, as they gave a standing ovation for minutes on end, which proved that the intended aim was reached. Aida is a dear score to music lovers, attractive even for people who may go to the opera for the first time, because the ensemble sounds dense and well-adjusted, because, as I was saying, there is an 'in-house' cast (which is itself remarkable), who worked under the guidance of famous soprano Marina Krilovici, a special guest in Iași, because the heavy scenery (both properly and figuratively speaking) and the multicoloured costumes (which can often compete with designers' creations) attract the eye, having thus all the ingredients for a production that will definitely become long-standing.

Anca Florea
Translated by Irina Borțoi
MTTLC, Bucharest University