02 May 2010
No Elephants — Aida at the Royal Opera House, London
It’s time Verdi got attention in Aida, not elephants.
It is twenty-three years since Rossini’s opera of cultural oppression, inspiring heroism and tender pathos was last seen on the Covent Garden stage, but this eagerly awaited new production of Guillaume Tell by Italian director Damiano Micheletto will be remembered more for the audience outrage and vociferous mid-performance booing that it provoked — the most persistent and strident that I have heard in this house — than for its dramatic, visual or musical impact.
With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.
Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.
If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”
Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?
Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.
On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.
Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.
Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.
Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.
The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.
Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s ﬁrst great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.
The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.
This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.
Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’
Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.
Based on a play, Chrysomania (The Passion for Money), by the Russian playwright Prince Alexander Shokhovskoy, Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades is, in the words of one literary critic, ‘a sardonic commentary on the human condition’.
It’s time Verdi got attention in Aida, not elephants.
The blue elephant in Graham Vick’sTamerlano almost stole the show, but elephants were pointedly banned from this new production of Aida at the Royal Opera House, London. Instead, Verdi’s music takes pride of place, revealed in full glory.
Pre-performance publicity indicated that this would not be a stereotype production, but minimalist it certainly was not. Abstraction in many ways suits Aida, an opera of secrets and mysteries.
Marcelo Álvarez as Radames and Marianne Cornetti as Amneris
Large structures loom over the cast, for this is a drama where individuals are pitted against overwhelming forces. The simple, strong lines also permit a new kind of staging, created from light and colour.
No elephants, no circus. Instead the focus shifts onto Verdi’s music itself, revealing its magnificence without distraction. How glorious it is, heard as music! Indeed, it’s because Aida is so vivid orchestrally that we’ve become accustomed to associating it with grand panoramas. But music is in itself abstract. This time, the orchestral colours can be seen as well as heard. Shades of rose and ochre, scarab and peacock, amethyst and sand, glow iridescently, transforming as the music develops. Synaesthetes may overload, but this abstraction is surprisingly expressive, given the connection between visual image and music.
Nicola Luisotti conducted with flair..Tempi were on the fast side, but better that than too slow. Freed from the restraints of cumbersome staging, the orchestra’s pace matched the nervous energy in the drama. Violent moods, violent music. In the scene at the Temple of Vulcan, the Egyptians are working themselves up to a frenzy. Heightened emotion in the orchestra but less so in the dancing. The Rite of Spring style choreography would not have been out of place, but perhaps too much to expect. Strange, distorted shapes hang from the sky, like the corpses of the dead. When the prisoners shuffle in, they look like they’ve been in battle. As Aida (Micaela Carosi) reminds us, the Triumphal March may be triumph for some, but defeat for others.
In the third act, when Aida sings “Qui Radamès verrà,|” Carosi stands before a black and white panel, as stark as the dilemma before her. But when Micaela Carosi sings, the lusciousness of her music translates into washes of blue and green, evoking the dark, swift Nile and “cieli azzurri” above, her Egyptian present and memories of her native land. Carosi is a very experienced Aida. Her middle voice is secure, so the extremes in the part feel natural, rather than over-coloured. Aida is constrained, all around, by secrecy and the need for stealth, so she is a strong personality, and alert.
Marcelo Álvarez as Radames is a more conventional portrayal. He hectors, but then, Radames is a headstrong hero, eager for battle, but ennobled by the grace of love. His finest moment comes as he and Aida face death, when his voice softens and takes on a gentler tone. Marianne Cornetti was a forceful, forthright Amneris, and Marco Vratogna’s Amonasro suitably subdued.
Jennifer Tipton deserves much credit for designing the magnificent light show. David McVicar proves that abstraction does not mean minimal, and is just as valid musically as circus gimmicks.