This is a very clever and refreshing take on the opera
by Melinda Hughes
I’ve worked for Raymond Gubbay, covering Madame Butterfly and Lady Thiang in The King and I, and being a resident company at the Royal Albert Hall was a magical experience. The cast, crew and company are hard working, productive lots of fun and they do fabulous, all-encompassing spectacles.
Yes, it is opera for the masses and usually sung in translation so I was surprised and delighted to discover that Aida (on until 11 March at the Royal Albert Hall) is sung in Italian. This could be due to the fact it could be near impossible to find a three-fold cast willing to perform in English or perhaps this is a new direction. I secretly hope so.
Before the opera commences we are already transported to Ancient Egypt through the eyes of a late Victorian excavation group led by a stout lady at her easel. As she sketches, an image of the pyramids appears on a huge projected screen which will act as an all encompassing atmospheric scene setter for the opera.
As the story of unrequited love unfolds in the mind of the lady archaeologist we unravel the past magic buried beneath the ruins in the sand. This is a very clever and refreshing take on the opera by director Stephen Medcalf; I loved the angle that she is connecting with past rulers of this ancient land.
I saw cast A on the first night with Indra Thomas as Aida who had replaced an ailing Chiara Taigi, which is a great shame. I don’t understand why Claire Rutter wasn’t placed in the first cast as I found Thomas’ top notes a little swallowed. This could be an issue with amplification which was sometimes a little muddy but Thomas’ voice is certainly beautiful and she is a profound actress.
The American Tenor Marc Heller made his British debut as Radames; a solid shining voice who I tip to be a leading world tenor of the future. His 'Celeste Aida' at the top of the opera rang out and his beautifully phrased recit at the end of Act Four before his final duet with Aida was transfixing.
Tiziano Carraro’s Amneris was steely and wilful and she suited the role perfectly and is something for the chaps too in her see-through muslin dress. David Kempster’s Amonasro was world class with a true Italian sound and feel. What a presence he has on stage, reminding me so much of Domingo (now a baritone as well).
A special mention must go to the High priestess Catrin Aur whose silvery voice really touched me. She also sings Aida in some performances and I would imagine she is stunning.
The production designed by Isabella Bywater is a beautiful spectacle as one would expect from Gubbay, superbly choreographed with the most wonderful dance scenes and an impressive chorus who make a great and glorious sound. The Processional March was all it should be from this grand opera and had overtones of an Olympic ceremony. Give me an A, give me an I, give me a…. well you get the message.