Saturday, 25 February 2012

Aida, Royal Albert Hall, 23rd February - A questionable production with a cracking opera hidden beneath.

As I took my seat at the Royal Albert Hall on Thursday I realised that Aida was only the third Verdi opera i'd ever seen. What a crime! Aida, the opera, was just magnificent! The music is just wonderful, plenty of big choral numbers and dramatic moments, there's even a triumphal march thrown in. In my opinion, the singers didn't perhaps do justice to some of the bigger numbers in the opera. I've not seen Aida before, not have I ever listened to a recording, but I just sensed that there was a need for a bit more power to bring things to life, which was lacking here. For me the evening was a bit of a split personality - the production wasn't great, for reasons i'll come to, but beneath it was clearly an operatic masterpiece!

Aida is a great story, a truly operatic story. It's set in Ancient Egypt and focuses on a love triangle between Radames (an Egyptian warrior), Amneris (the Pharaoh's daughter) and Aida (an Ethiopian slave). This takes place against a background of war between the Egyptians and the Ethiopians. Radames is sent off by the Pharaoh to conquer the Ethiopians and he returns victorious, along with the King of Ethiopia, who also happens to be Aida's father. Whilst he's been away, Amneris has discovered the love between him and Aida, and isn't pleased. With all this going on, you know it's not going to end well. Indeed there are a number of dramatic deaths, Radames is entombed alive for crimes against the state, and Aida is killed in a resulting fight between Amneris, the High Priest and herself. However, the ending of this opera, like La traviata, is actually rather touching as opposed to dramatic. From what I could work out, Aida appears in the tomb of Radames following her death, and they're reunited once more in love as the music slowly fades away. It's brilliant stuff, and opera on a grand scale!

Thursday's production was in many respects very traditional, it was set in Egypt and the set was all Ancient Egyptian ruins set against a changing backdrop of images of the pyramids, the Nile and temples. However, for me it was a bit flawed. Before the opera started there were various characters milling around on stage involved in various archaeological activities, judging by their outfits this was supposed to be the late 19th or early 20th Century. There was one lady in particular who was on stage sketching various things...When the opera started the other characters left the stage, but the lady stayed with us for the entire thing, hanging around in the background. She was pretty annoying, and totally pointless i felt. I think the idea was that she was having some sort of vision harking back to the days of Ancient Egypt...Anyway, it wasn't clear without a programme to explain. The other thing I really didn't like about this production was the fact that the whole thing was amplified through speakers. I knew this would be the case, and I knew I probably wouldn't like it. I was right, I really didn't like it all! For me one of the great things about opera is the fact that it's so powerful, and at the same time so completely raw!It sends a shiver down your spine at it's best, and that literally done through the playing of instruments and the human voice - nothing added, nothing taken away. For me something was lost when it was relayed through speakers, I just really didn't like it at all. One final complaint - the surtitles. They were green, bright green and almost impossible to read at times!

Although't a fan of this production, what I have discovered here is a brilliant piece of opera! It's full of love, drama and everything else I love about opera. It's further cemented my love of Verdi as a composer too and also a lover of Italian opera. I've been a bit disappointed with my recent opera excursions, but Aida has re-confirmed to me why I love it so much. I can't wait for the chance to see Aida again in a more traditional performance.

Rating: ***

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