Sunday, November 2, 2014

Met - Aida - 10/30/14

Composer: Giuseppe Verdi
Conductor: Marco Armiliato
 Production: Sonja Frisell
Aida: Liudmyla Monastyrska
Radamès: Marcello Giordani
Amneris: Olga Borodina
Amonasro: Zeljko Lucic

I don't consider myself a procrastinator, and yet, for the past several years I had been postponing getting a ticket to the Met's much lauded production of Aida for one reason or another because I regularly figured out that there would always be "next season". Until now that is, as this season is supposed to be this particular Aida's last season, and also happens to coincide with my mom's annual visit. Thrilled at the prospect of being able to watch a Met opera in the house rather than on the HD broadcast screen across the pond, she quickly pointed out that she would treat if I got the tickets. Needless to say I quickly did.
Regardless of its obvious broad appeal, Aida has never been a favorite of mine, maybe at least partly because of its obvious broad appeal. On the other hand, nobody had to twist my harm to have me tag along and experience its exotic locale, gripping moral and emotional dilemmas, and richly melodic score one more time. And at the end of the day, who cared if it would end at a late hour on a school night? At least it should be one to remember.

Aida is allegedly Verdi's most popular opera, a good many knowledgeable people even consider it the most popular opera in the world, and when you look at it objectively, it is easy to see why: the drama is simple, the setting is grand, the music is beautiful, there is the added bonus of a couple of dance numbers and, in this production at least, the promise of the unusual presence of horses on the stage. So even if the overture was partly spoiled by late-comers being let in, the intermissions were interminable and the A/C was mercilessly blowing on us the entire time (So much for sunny warm Egypt!), we were happy to be there.
A lot of good things have been written and said about Ukrainian soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska, an Aida veteran by now, and there was a lot to like indeed. Her strong voice effortlessly soared above all and her range was impressively wide. She definitely sounded in control of everything coming out of her mouth, and that was definitely something to marvel at. All this singing power, however, was frustratingly undermined by her apparent lack of acting abilities. Apart from some tentative emotional involvement in the scene with her father in Act 3, this Aida did not seem overly bothered by all the drama unfolding around her.
On the other hand, Russian mezzo-soprano Olga Borodina was unquestionably in charge of her part and relishing every minute of her bad-ass Amneris. Not only did her singing convincingly rose above the fray, but her impersonation of the fundamentally spoiled, increasingly desperate and ultimately pitiful Egyptian princess was spot-on.
Italian tenor Marcello Giordani, a Radamès veteran himself, got the job done, never mind that his "Celeste Aida" did not dazzle in the least. Granted, the famous aria is at the very beginning of the opera and we were all still getting situated, but still. While most of his remaining performance was respectable, there was nothing even remotely memorable about it.
I found Serbian bass Zeljko Lucic much more expressive than he had been in Macbeth last month. On Thursday night, he carried out the role of the captured King Amonasro with poise and dignity. The chorus was its usual excellent self and beautifully contributed to our musical enjoyment of this performance.
My main reason for attending this production was the production itself, and I must admit that in the regard, my sky-high expectations were mostly met. Yet, a lot of the costumes needed some serious revamping and some hats should simply be tossed out. Some of the characters actually looked like they were rehearsing for a second-rate Halloween parade instead of being part of a landmark Met production.
However, when it came to the sets, they were a real feast for the eyes, finally putting the Met's oversized stage to good use with stylish opulence. Most impressive was Scene 2 of Act 2, when the back wall of Amneris' apartment slowly came down to reveal  a line of soldiers on top of it and a whole public square filled with people, including royalty, behind it. Soon the victory parade brought in even more people and the famous horses, one of which visibly not enjoying its fifteen minutes of fame. The scene ended up in a truly spectacular tableau, which prompted someone behind me to exclaim to his party that this was "what opera should always be like".
But opera is also about the music. In that regard, Verdi wanted to make sure that Aida fit the bill and brilliantly succeeded. Expertly combining complex choral numbers to express heart-felt patriotism and show-stopping arias to convey personal conflicts, the Italian master came up with the perfect cocktail that has been enchanting the crowds for decades. Met veteran Marco Armiliato conducted the superb orchestra in another confident performance and seemed to be on a mission to insure that the stunning score would not get overshadowed by the grandeur of the production. It did not.

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