Fascinating?

Last Wednesday with D to the first night of Aida.

This was touted by Lyndon T as a foretaste of the future: enormous LED panels lumber around the stage providing backdrop and music-video-esque commentary on the action.  Next year we are to have three such productions.  Amongst other things, this will save on changing sets.

Despite a little blue glitch (a flickering panel) the screens were dazzling. When sheer splendour was required, they were terrific. The back-drop for the scene by the waters of the Nile was also very evocative.

There is also the risk though, as with all background business to which directors tend to resort to liven up what one suspects they dread as a long aria which they see as holding up the action, that they will be a distraction. For me, lightning flashes against a stormy cloudscape fell into this category.  Can’t we trust the singer and the music?  Right at the start, Radames’ vision of “Celeste Aida” was for me cheapened by the stereotypical black but comely video-maiden on the panels behind him.

The modest Opera Theatre stage poses a particular challenge. In Act II scene 2 the Egyptians seemed stuck in a rut to the back of the stage.

Without a set, Radames’ trial took place on stage (the libretto envisages it taking place off-stage, leaving more focus on Amneris in this scene).

Singing was very strong though close up it felt a bit unremittingly loud. I suppose I would feel differently if sitting further back, but something is wrong if a tenor as fine as Riccardo Massi as Radames is overpowered by Amneris and Aida. Massi was still able to act with his vowels within his dynamic range but A and A didn’t leave much scope for that.

Does Aida really join Radames in the tomb, or is this just his dream? It’s not as if they embrace, and at the end she just wanders away from him. Perhaps a twist was intended.

Gold star for finally spotting the obvious but all of a sudden similarities between Nabucco and Aida sprung to mind. Where have I been?

I’ve been more moved by the human drama in other, daggier productions. The wonderful thing about Aida is that after all the big stuff at the start it ends very intimately. This production paid tribute to that as one must but somehow didn’t quite deliver for me.

So, a brilliant production, good time had by all, but leaving with me with reservations as also a minority of reviewers (1, 2).

It was a relief to have the woodwind up in the front of the pit.

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