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Verdi's Aida - Musical Theatre Hit Performance Live in HD from the New York Metropolitan Opera House

Monday, 17 December 2012 , ora 9.33
Great amounts of money can be invested in an opera performance. Some commentators justified the alleged decline of the genre by the extremely high costs it involves. Great costs, indeed, but if the performance is wellproduced it runs for decades and it becomes a hallmark of absolute quality of the opera theatre that did not hesitate to invest. Such is the spectacular case of Verdi's Aida at the Met - with the premiere in 1988, therefore with 25 years of triumphant existence and the prospect of living on during the next years, this staging still charms and surprises its audience. And if you have the chance to see it a second time, you know what comes next and you double the joy of watching it by adding the excitement of waiting for it..

Impressive staging

The production is signed by Sonja Frisell, one of the directors that the great Jean-Pierre Ponnelle prefers, whose achievements are renowned worldwide and who won an Emmy in 1990. The production team also includes Gianni Quaranta, Dada Saligeri and Gil Wechsler, who, according to the director's wish, were in charge of the scenery, the costumes and the lights. Hundreds of extras fill the stage, which is lavishly decorated with statues whose legs are the only visible part and whose gigantic dimensions you can only guess, and which also features temples with tens of zig-zag steps and large open spaces where the victorious armies march. Four horses are brought to the stage and the live broadcast uses several cameras to give fabulous perspectives from various angles, which makes the stage seem even larger. The costumes are amazing, blue and gold are some of the dominant colours, even in some of the make-ups, the accessories are gorgeous - headdresses, the pharaoh's costumes and those of the great priest, the opulent viper-adorned tiara that Amneris wears in the Triumphal scene. What is even more interesting is that not once does the spectator feel like the cardboard scenery and the coloured glass jewellery are ridiculous or a sham. Everything, absolutely everything is well thought-out, made with utter professionalism and in good taste, so every detail justifies its place and its role.

About the history of

Aida is one of the later masterpieces written by Verdi, after a time when his prodigious inspiration seemed to have vanished. After the successwith Don Carlos' in Paris (1867), the genius musician retired to his estate in Sant'Agata, refusing any new proposed libretto. The silence did not last long, though, and on Christmas Eve in 1871, Aida is staged at the Opera in Cairo, and acquires the title of one of the most beloved titles in the world's lyrical repertoire. The tragic story gives great dramatic support to music, and the composer makes full use of it, with the virtuosity that he has always shown. Aida's score is a tapestry of laitmotifs - the experience of the German Richard Wagner touched the Italian Giuseppe Verdi - that interlaces love, passion, the feeling of duty, despair, jealousy, the wish to get revenge, late regrets, resignation, supreme sacrifice… Indeed, the opera's score remains unique in the lyrical theatre's world history both thanks to its musical success and to the multiple and generous possibilities to be turned into a musical theatre show.

The orchestra and the conductor - 15thDecember at the Met

The wonderful Met orchestra was conducted by Fabio Luisi on the 15th December about whom I wrote only a week ago that he hadn't impressed me much in A Masked Ball, yet I admitted that the surprise of the new version of the show might have… clogged my ears. Maybe so, maybe not… undoubtedly this performance of Aida - which I had known since 2009 and which I saw a second time with great joy - did not let me for one second ignore Fabio Luisi and his orchestra. On the contrary, I found myself several times praising the orchestra's interventions that were full of lyricism or drama - alternately - and the strong hand leading the instrumentalists to delicate or aggressive lines by asking them, above all, to be involved, to show colour and expression. The orchestra and the conductor were wonderful in this mid-December performance - a composition by Verdi and a performance of Aida in all their splendour and complexity!

The leading soloists

The Met casts always bring together great contemporary names which once again require the usually fantastic costs. They are established artists or debutants who have already made proof of their value on other European or American stages. Three of the four names chosen for the leading roles have proved to be lucky bets. 37-year-old Ukrainian Liudmyla Monastyrska, who made her debut at the Met with one of the most difficult roles fordramatic sopranos, was a great revelation that everyone expected and praised. A young, fresh voice, capable of filling the 4000-seat hall, shining surely and easily above the choir and the orchestra, a pleasant and discreet presence - I am sure her refinement is an advantage that will complete the interpretation of her character in the next seasons. The sombre tones - nervousness or intention! - gave colour and strength to the drama and the tragedy of her life as a slave, while her bright acute notes and the soaring lines supported and transmitted the joy of the woman who loves and who is loved back. In the role of Amneris, Russian Olga Borodina, who has been at the top of her career for several years, proves us once again that she is an experienced and refined musician. The Aida-Amneris duo in the second act was one of the most beautiful moments of the performance. Georgian George Gagnidze, who lives the best years of his career, as well, created a wild Amonasro, as far as both voice and scenic presence are concerned. His character has a strong, deep voice, which reminds of crushing thunder. Another outstanding moment of the performance was the father-daughter duo in the third act. The fourth great name of the cast was Roberto Alagna. The 50-year-old tenor with an extraordinary international career seems to climb down from the peak of his career. I am not only referring to problems with acute notes, but also, unfortunately, to the lack of homogenity in his singing, to the alternation of beautiful sounds with less beautiful ones in the same melodic line, to the breathing problems and the rather tense scenic presence. Certainly, Radames is a role that the dear tenor has sung dozens of times on the greatest stages of the world, every time with resounding success. It is an extremely difficult role, and established tenors say that it in unlikely that an interpretation will have the same quality throughout the entire show and that the only alternatives may be sacrificing the first aria so that the role may be sung beautifully and substantially until the end, or exhausting most resources in the merciless Celeste Aida only for your voice to die out sooner or later during the performance. Roberto Alagna sacrificed his acute note in Celeste Aida, but this did not help him take the role strongly until the end. He also had good moments, but... unfortunately, the weaker ones left a bad taste.

... And the supporting ones

I have found another interesting aspect worth reviewing in this show: although they accepted the high costs of an opera blockbuster that needs to be maintained and of top artists, the organisers of the Met performance did not want to invest in... supporting characters, so ©tefan Kocán (Ramfis), Miklós Sebestyén (the King) and the messenger (whose name I do not know) struggled with their less lengthy, yet important roles that exceeded their vocal possibility.

I cannot conclude without highly appreciating the choir and the ballet at the Met, because Aida is a performance of the crowds, the choir's score pages are numerous and substantial while the ballet moments are few, but spectacular. And once again I say that such an incredibly expensive opera blockbuster remains one of the most successful productions of the theatre, a timeless performance which will surely become legendary in time.

Cristina Sârbu
Translated by Irina Borțoi and Elena Daniela Radu
MTTLC, Bucharest University