by Polly Hope
The Royal Opera House. Covent Garden. London
So here we go with yet another huge new production of AIDA. Yes, what a terrific work it is. Sensational story, well, love and death, here albeit with a twist or two, but isn't that what life is about?A cast of hundreds, amazing music, choruses shaking the chandeliers in the rafters, triumphalism at its nosiest and nobody winning. Great stuff. Such an event must have been mind blowing when first produced, what public occasion now would anyone commission such a vast work for? Yes, the opening of the Suez Canal was important. Art and culture were seen as a necessity for celebrations once upon a time; what did we get for the Millennium? In London a tent now used for tennis displays or rock concerts. Shame on us.
So back to this new AIDA. Lets start with the good stuff. It is a huge work and hundreds of persons on stage can make a vast noise. The chorus is really the star of this show, quite magnificent. The conducting of Nicola Luisottiis also exquisite. Every note and nuance is clear, and exact with the sense of a vast orchestra always there and yet the singers always able to rise above the sounds in the pit. Don't think I've ever heard a Verdi work played to such perfection or understood Verdi's brilliant orchestration before.A musical wonder.
Then the singers, not much wrong, just they didn't break my heart, any of them anywhere. With such music to sing they should have done better. Big voices to be sure but the two ladies, the Amneris of Marianne Cornetti and the Aida of ofMicaelaCarosi was a bit of a shrieking exchange between these women 'of traditional build.' Radames, also of some girth, sang fine, but again not heart melting. The heart rendering sounds were always the chorus, especially when singing distantly off stage, very beautiful.
That's the good stuff. Now to the production: David McVicar the director is usually good for something exiting, a new angle on an old plot and always visually dramatic. This production is totally ghastly. Everything played in almost complete darkness, [doesn't the sun shine in Egypt?] and itseems the locality has been moved to somewhere around a derelict industrial site. Act 1 takes place in front of a screen seemingly made from bubble wrap. And so on through each screen, culminating in the tomb being somesort of walk-in girder complex. It could have possibly worked as a real industrial site but this is purveyed as ART. Which is just isn't. Jean-Marc Puissant is responsible for the design should you want to know.
All directors these days duck out of the triumphal march where the loot is carried around the stage. Not an elephant or a camel or a banner to be seen. Just a tangle of deadManypeopleupsidedownia, [an Edward Lear invention,] hanging from the flies whilst just about naked nymphsprance about doing gymnastics, which I think was supposed to be dancing.
Yes the choreography was the worst of all; exercises to music looking like a keep fit DVD. Oh dear. Fin Walker was responsible.
Costumes, tolerable, sort of Japanese Samurai, but I could be wrong, but at least luxurious, though poor AIDA squeezed into bright blue off the shoulder velvet looked enormous and hardly a slave Amneris was in purple Ouch. Moritz Junge responsible.
That's about it. Yes, by all means update operas, place them in different environments, make us think. But don't gnaw away the essential innards of a great work. Dear directors, try a little humility when playing with a treasure. It will last,you will be forgotten.
Polly Hope London