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Verdi Aida

Aida Norma Fantini
Radames Marco Berti
Amneris Ildiko Komlosi
Amonasro Mark Doss

Stage Director, Set & Lighting Designer Robert Wilson
Recorded live at the Theatre Royal de La Monnaie - De Munt
Symphony Orchestra & Choir of La Monnaie
Musical Director Kazushi Ono

Opus Arte DVD OA 0954 D

Mixed feelings upon revisiting this production four years on, on DVD, with similar cast to that seen in 2002 in Brussels (q.v. below) but for the Radames and the conductor. The dominant influence is Wilson, and we have since seen his version of Madam Butterfly (revd by SF) which is likewise minimalist with acting restricted to formalised gestures.

It all makes for peculiarly relaxed viewing, with emotion kept under strict restraint. The filming makes a positive contribution. Colours are beautiful, blue and black predominating, costumes sometimes odd. Movements are always slow and this is a "no touch" between lovers opera (c.f. a recent Tristan at Covent Garden); there is frequent camera change between close and full stage view (slowly and with overlap). Black screens pass across the stage and often it is contrived to have black background framing close ups.

Occasionally you wonder if you have departed from the live staged performance, possibly with a 'patched shot' which can be quite disconcerting, as when Aida on the bank of the Nile laments that she will never see her homeland again. (In this scene, we were struck with the similarities between the Amonasro/Aida duet - pictured - and the equivalent dialogue in Traviata in which Germont forces Violetta to renounce her man.) Applause is restricted also, none after the famous arias.

The orchestra is fine, but somehow less ravishing than heard live and under Pappano (we were not allotted press tickets to review it again at Covent Garden).

Not a first recommendation, then, but a significant record of one influential director's ideas at the beginning of the 21st century.

For us the first choice, definitely, is the St. Margarethen Festival version, complete with horses and elephants, and strong musical values too! PGW

Review from Brussels

Aida is a problem opera, holding its place in the popularity stakes with its opportunities for grandiose display on the largest scale, rather than the central human drama, which has often taken second place. Wilson has blown away both the 19th C tradition of fantastical orientalist fantasies - - and dispensed with gratuitous cruelty in the exercise of power (as in David Pountney's sometimes incomprehensible production for Munich State Opera) stripped the work to its core elements of emotional conflict and ethical choices. His pared down, but highly sophisticated, staging has created space for the music to speak on equal terms with the visual spectacle. The characters, dressed simply, move formally at a measured pace, maintaining statuesque hieratic poses and hand positions which suggest images familiar from ancient Egyptian art. I found myself comfortably accepting this alien mode of representation immediately, its strangeness a relief from the usual operatic stock gestures, gripping attention and helping to universalise the drama that passed before us, affecting rather than distancing.

This production places Aida in a defamiliarised ancient world. Wilson has created a stunningly beautiful stage picture for the Nile Scene. Warm earth colours indicate the desert beyond a peaceful band of water in the middle distance, the whole suffused with heavenly blue lighting, a perfect counterpoint to the human distress and tragedy unfolding. Ildiko Komlosi (Amneris) made a notable debut at Brussels, - - fitting in easily with Norma Fantini (Aida), Johan Botha (Radames) and Mark S. Doss (Amonasro). Antonio Pappano elicited playing of the highest order, breathlessly intense - - and quiet passages which held the audience spellbound. This was a production which has lodged in the memory permanently and will come to mind whenever one sees Aida in the future - - Peter Grahame Woolf.

© Peter Grahame Woolf