Sunday, April 14, 2013

Review: (Winnipeg) Aïda

What's love got to do with it
Ancient cat fights can be deadly, particularly when the cat is a queen
by John Herbert Cunningham

One name almost synonymous with opera is Verdi; and one opera that readily comes to mind is his Aïda. This was what Manitoba Opera offered its sold out house on Saturday and it was greeted at the end with a standing ovation. This was quite an achievement considering Aïda's rocky start. All this without a single elephant.

Verdi's prominence in the opera world can be measured by this opera which was commissioned by Isma'il Pasha, Khedive of Egypt, in 1871 for the unheard of sum of 150,000 francs. Aïda was premiered in Cairo on 24 December 1871.

The audience was informed prior to the start that there were over 200 individuals involved in the creation of this opera which cost Manitoba Opera over $600,000 and not one elephant.

In other words, Aïda is screwed from the outset as is probably Radamès, and not by each other.

The plot is essentially your classic love triangle. Radamès (Rafael Davila) is in love with Aïda (Michele Capalbo), an Ethiopian princess and slave of Amneris (Tiziana Carraro), daughter of the King of Egypt, who is in love with Radamès. In other words, Aïda is screwed from the outset as is probably Radamès, and not by each other. The turning point in this triangle is when Ethiopia invades Egypt. Radamès is named by the gods as the commander to the Egyptian forces. He leads them into battle against the Ethiopian invaders led by Aïda's father making Aïda the intersection of two triangles. Torn between the love for her father and the love for Radamès, Aïda is damned no matter what she does, no matter whom she cheers for.

All of this is taking place under the watchful eye of Amneris who suspects Aïda's love for Ramadès. Any false step on Aïda's part and Amneris will pounce like a cat upon its prey. The Ethiopian army is defeated. Radamès returns victorious. He is offered anything he wishes by Amneris' father (David Watson). As the prisoners are led onto the stage, Aïda recognizes her father Amonasro (Gregory Dahl), King of Ethiopia, dressed in rags and disguised as a regular soldier. Ramfis (Phillip Ens), High Priest of Egypt, calls for the prisoners' death. Seeing the anguish in Aida's eyes at the thought of her father being killed, Radamès' request of the King of Egypt is to free the prisoners. Ramfis rages against this saying that they will seek revenge. It is agreed that   all the prisoners, with the exception of Aida and her father, will be released. While everyone is gathered to celebrate Ramadès' victory, the King of Egypt offers him his daughter Amneris' hand in marriage. Unable to refuse, Ramadès accepts knowing that Aida is present and watching.

Later, Amonasro comes to Aïda having discovered her love for Radamès and Radamès' return of this love. Amonastro has developed a plan for the Ethiopians' revenge. Aïda will play upon and betray Radamès' love in order to discover the Egyptian's plans which they will then use to launch an assault on Egypt. At first Aïda refuses but her father shames her with her love for him and her country into obeying. When Radamès unwillingly falls victim to this plot, he is observed and captured. Aida escapes while Amonasro is killed.

The priests assemble to try Radamès. Three times they request Radamès to defend himself. Three times Radamès remains silent. All this takes place offstage while Amneris stands nearby so she can overhear what happens. We observe the hearing through her anguish. Radamès is sentenced to be buried alive. A crypt is prepared and Radamès locked inside. There he discovers Aïda who has come to die with him.

The action is accompanied by some amazing arias as well as duets, Capalbo thrilling hitting several high C's. The chorus scenes are thrilling and powerful. Scott Henderson's incredible lighting design, combined with Roberto Oswald's set design, embellish the poignancy and pathos of the vocal pyrotechnics.

One element that you don't often see in opera - but one that added immensely to Aïda - was dance. Kimberley Rampersad's sensual, erotic performance as a Nubian slave was enthralling. The sword fights were riveting although they could have been shortened to greater effect.

That takes us back to the beginning. Whether it was a little bit of opening night jitters, the opening scene which involved Radamès, Aïda and Amneris was interminable. It reeked with banality and was an exceedingly stilted affair. Davila's vocals were weak making one wonder why he had been selected to play Radamès, a role that demanded power and presence.

Fortunately, as Aïda unfolded, these opening difficulties were surmounted, the drama emerged sharply, the audience was riveted to the experience, and Davila demonstrated why he was Radamès.

Aïda will be performed again on Tuesday, April 16 and Friday, April 19. And then Manitoba Opera will be off to the next season. And still no elephants.
Running time - three hours including one intermission

1 comment:

  1. The Tuesday performance was stunning. It appeared Tuesday sold out also, which is rare for a Tuesday at MB Opera. Great to see Aida again, having not seen it since 1993 at the Skydome.

    Especially wonderful was the Triumph song and O Patria Mia, which was probably Capalbo's best performance of the night. I never paid much attention to that aria before, but it is now one of my favorites.

    I thought Davila was superb as Radames. I didn't notice any of the shortcomings you mention, so maybe it was just Saturday night.

    Carraro was notable as Amneris. While she tended to get drowned out by the much louder Capalbo and Davila at the outset, she came into her own in the second half and provided stunning arias.

    Also superb were the MB Opera regulars David Watson and Phillip Ens. Ens bass voice is always recognizable. Dahl was also great in his brief role, with excellent acting ability to match his voice.

    The orchestra was larger than usual and the opera was richer for it.



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