Opera North Aida review

VIDEO KILLED THE MUSICAL STAR

AIDA
Opera North at Symphony Hall ****
Some might sneer that Verdi's structural and textural templates are too easily interchangeable between his scores: certainly if you superimpose Aida upon La Traviata, and even the Requiem you could come up with all kinds of permutations where the transfer between works would matter little.
But what eloquent templates they are, and the formulas work perfectly in Aida. The riches within this score are manifold, and this semi-staged production by Opera North did the music full justice.
So experienced in Italian opera, Richard Armstrong conducted a sweeping yet detailed account of this panoramic work. The Orchestra of Opera North played stunningly, from the wispily high violins evoking nocturnal sounds on the banks of the Nile, to the rasping cimbasso in the triumphant pageantry of celebration -- and the offstage brass, including natural straight trumpets, added a huge frisson.
Similarly the remarkable Chorus, engaged onlookers, not glued to their choir-stall seats, but moving and reacting like involved observers, just as they would have done in a fully-staged performance.
The cast was uniformly magnificent, headed by the steelily vulnerable Aida of Alexandra Zabala, Alessandra Volpe's predatory, self-willed Amneris, and Rafael Rojas' ringing Radames, floating his famous "Celeste Aida" so silkily. Eric Greene was the imposing Amonasro, but none of us could understand the point of the huge white Mickey Mouse gloves he wore at his first appearance.
None of us, too, appreciated the distracting back-projections of ravaged Middle-Eastern conurbations, viewed through huge lace-curtains on a washing-line, and which added nothing to our appreciation -- and indeed marred it, as surtitles were banished to two screens on either side of the wide stage.
It was reasonable to update the action to today's troubled times in that area of the Mediterranean, and much of the stage-business was totally appropriate. The entombment of Aida and Radames was convincingly achieved. But we didn't need the videos, which seem to have become de rigueur these days.
The programme-book was one of the most informative and stimulating I have seen in a very long time. I shall cherish it.
Christopher Morley

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