Opera preview: Aida

I couldn't pass up the chance to see David McVicar's production of Aida at the Royal Opera on Tuesday. I liked the first time around so an invitation to see the dress rehearsal with a few other bloggers seemed like an awfully sensible way to spend a Tuesday morning.

After getting past the crowd of old age pensioners and students that seemed to make up this preview audience (and they are a tough crowd - well the pensioners anyway - steer clear of their elbows), having a strong cup of coffee, we settled down in our seats to watch the drama unfold. Johnnyfox and I were given the choice of the stalls or a box. We opted for the director's box.

There is something thrilling about this production of the opera that lingers with you. It is alternatively bloody and sexual, but never feels out of place or over the top as Aida productions can tend to be. Instead there is an intimacy that draws you in to the central characters and recurring themes of war and love. War comes first, and chatting with associate director Leah Hausman after the opera she noted that it is war or "guerra" that is what gets mentioned most. The love of course being the love triangle of Amneris, daughter of the King of Egypt, Aida, her Ethiopian slave and Radames, Commander of the Egyptian army.


This production avoids anything obviously Egyptian or gilded. There are no pyramids or sets that could be at home at Harrods. Instead it draws upon costumes and rituals from other ancient societies. The effect makes it a more primitive and austere production, which combined with the bouncing breasts and scenes of a sexual nature, has to be perfectly suited for these times.

There have been a few tweaks that have improved things over the 2010 production. Amneris is not loaded down with a headdress which the first time around put a barrier between the character and the audienceOlga Borodina (pictured above) delivers an impressive performance with emotion and power. She still looks tough and you wouldn't want to be in Aida's shoes (even if she has a soft spot for her slave), but the character makes more sense. This is important since despite the title, the opera really is all about her.

Opposite Borodina is a curiously boyishly enthusiastic Roberto AlagnaHis interpretation of the role gives a clarity and emotional connection and it is a thrill watching these two stars together.

There is also a stunning new martial arts choreography during the the triumphal march scene, which along with an impressive set of corpses that descends from above, is quite a visual feast. It doesn't look easy and the rehearsal video below suggests it is not...


We did suggest to Ms Houseman afterwards that future productions could consider stringing up an actor up there during the march to twitch a bit for added realism, but what you see already is probably enough. I have tended to lose interest in Aida after the end of act two, but in this production there is enough drama in the second half to keep things moving apace.

The Royal Opera orchestra under conductor Fabio Luisi sounds great and moves at a frantic pace that adds to the intensity. By the time act three comes to its emotionally intensive end, I was feeling exhausted. The chemistry between the leads combined with the intimacy of this production works very well here and it continues throughout the second half.

Last year this production did not get raves, but I would have to respectfully disagree. It is a great production that has got better. Performances run until 15 April and seats are still available. A boo from the new media / bloggerazzi is below featuring @seehearlive, @oughttobeclowns, @jakeyoh and @johnnyfoxlondon.
Listen!

An added treat was a trip backstage during the interval. While the production looks more glamourous  from the audience's perspective it was fascinating watching the guys test the set ahead of Act III, and note the constant jets of moist air falling from above. It keeps the dust down and helps the singers voices. It feels slightly refreshing as well (although it did remind me to a trip to a murf I once went on).

Postscript: Micaela Carosi playing Aida in the dress rehearsal would withdraw before opening night due to pregnancy. Perhaps those hormones were probably playing a greater role than anyone suspected at the time but it just goes to show there is never a dull moment at the opera. Thanks to the folks at the Royal Opera for their hospitality. Photo credit: Royal Opera / Bill Cooper

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