United States Verdi, Aida: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of Metropolitan Opera, New York / Nicola Luisotti (conductor). Broadcast live to the Dundonald Omniplex Cinema, Belfast, from the Metropolitan Opera, New York, 6.10.2018. (RB)
Aida – Anna Netrebko
Amneris – Anita Rachvelishvili
Radamès – Aleksandrs Antonenko
Amonasro – Quinn Kelsey
Ramfis – Dmitry Belosselskiy
The King – Ryan Speedo Green
Production – Sonja Frisell
Set Designer – Gianni Quaranta
Costume Designer – Dada Saligeri
Lighting Designer – Gil Wechsler
Choreographer – Alexei Ratmansky
Live in HD Host – Isabel Leonard
Live in HD Director – Gary Halvorson
Sonja Frisell’s production of Aida was first performed at the end of the 1980’s and it is no surprise that it has been revived so many times at the Met. The incredible scale and spectacle of the sets continue to take the breath away. Frisell follows the libretto by setting the action in ancient Egypt and she provides us with imposing palaces with enormous pillars covered with hieroglyphs, temples with towering statues of Egyptian Gods and Pharaoh’s, and a dark, hermetically sealed sarcophagus at the end of the opera. The transition in Act II from Amneris’ chamber to the Grand Gate of Thebes was a coup de théâtre: as the chamber descended from sight another platform containing the assembled populace came down from the ceiling. During the Grand March sequence there were hundreds of chorus members and extras on stage, all wearing imaginatively designed period costumes, and live horses cantered across the stage before Radamès himself came in on an imposing horse drawn carriage.
Anna Netrebko has increasingly moved to weightier dramatic roles over the course of her career and in this production she gave a performance that matches some of the greats of the repertoire including Leontyne Price and Monserrat Caballé (who sadly passed away recently). Netrebko is a superb actress and she completely transformed herself into the Ethiopian princess. We watched her constantly being torn between her love for Radamès and her love for her father and her country. The vulnerability and powerlessness of her situation was there for all to see but this did not prevent her from showing flashes of anger. Netrebko’s singing was quite simply out of this world. In Act II her voice rose magnificently above the assembled chorus and orchestra in a show of awesome dramatic power. She sang Act III’s ‘O Patria mia’ with exquisite beauty of tone producing supple, perfectly shaped legato phrases while investing every word with care. In the final duet where Aida sings her farewells, Netrebko’s soft gossamer lines soared above the stage in the most wonderful way.
Georgian mezzo-soprano, Anita Rachvelishvili was equally impressive in the role of Amneris. The Act II scene where she confronts Aida about her love for Radamès was a dramatic tour de force. Rachvelishvili moved from providing the open hand of friendship to a molten jealous rage which saw her towering above Netrebko who was crawling away from her in terror. Rachvelishvili was also at pains to show us Amneris’ humanity and in Act IV we saw the soul of this very flawed and jealous character wrestling with the consequences of what she had done. Rachvelishvili was impressive throughout the vocal range and she produced gorgeous tone colours which perfectly captured her scheming, her tyrannical bullying, her jealousies and her invective against the injustice of the priests. Her Act IV scenes in particular were extraordinary and I have never heard them sung as well as this.
Latvian tenor, Aleksandrs Antonenko, gave an accomplished performance in the role of Radamès although I felt he was overpowered by the two lead female performers. He gave an assured performance of ‘Celeste Aida’ in Act 1 although some of the top notes were not quite as clean as I would have liked. He did a good job balancing the lyrical and dramatic demands of the role and I thought he was at his most impressive in the Act III confrontation with Aida. There were some intonation problems at various points in the opera which perhaps show he is not as secure as he might be in this role and he was not able to match Netrebko in the final scene. Quinn Kelsey gave a fine performance in the role of Amonasro. He ratcheted up the dramatic tension brilliantly in both his Act II and Act III encounters with Netrebko and he sang with great authority and beauty of tone. Dmitry Belosselskly and Ryan Speedo Green also acquitted themselves well in the roles of Ramfis and the King.
Nicola Luisotti’s pacing of the material was generally very good although some of the tempi he adopted were a little slow. He had an eye to detail in the introductory orchestral material but he really let his players off the leash in the big set piece numbers which were monumental when they came. The Met Orchestra were firing on all cylinders throughout the evening and I was particularly impressed with the strings. The Met Chorus raised the roof during the grand Triumphal March and were clearly on fine form.
This was an evening of truly memorable music making. Netrebko and Rachvelishvili brought the house down and were both deservedly greeted with a standing ovation.
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