Monday 8 October 2018

Modified Rapture: Verdi's 'Aida' from the Met

Verdi: Aida - Metropolitan Opera (Photo Metropolitan Opera)
Verdi: Aida - Metropolitan Opera (Photo Metropolitan Opera)
Verdi Aida; Anna Netrebko, Anita Rachvelishvili, Aleksandrs Antonenko, dir Sonja Frisell; Metropolitan Opera Live in HD at the Barbican Cinema
Reviewed by Anthony Evans on 6 October 2018
Star rating: 4.5

Putting the grand into Grand Opera, the Met's 30 year-old Aida returns striking as ever with a strong cast

Over the years a certain type of monumental stand and sing Opera has attracted some sniffy opprobrium from some quarters. I’m not sure I’d want to survive entirely on a diet of the sort of stuff Verona has been pumping out for the last 100 years either, but there’s clearly still an appetite for the shows that put the grand in Grand Opera. Screen 1 at the Barbican was packed to see the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Verdi's Aida, surely the epitome of Grand Opera, broadcast live on Saturday 7 October 2018.

At Saturday’s performance Anna Netrebko sang Aida with Anita Rachvelishvili as Amneris. Aleksandrs Antonenko’s Radames completed the love triangle. The kings of Ethiopia and Egypt were Quinn Kelsey and Ryan Speedo Green with Dmitry Belosselskiy as the High Priest Ramfis. Nicola Luisotti was conducting.

Sonja Frisell’s production is now celebrating its thirtieth anniversary. The colossal sets are certainly spectacular and the technology that allows a seamless move from the grand to the intimate remains impressive even now.
And, of course, it does have all the hallmarks of ‘park and sing’ but if you take the man at his word, all that Verdi wanted for the opera was “good, above all intelligent singing” and, by and large, that’s exactly what we got - in spades. From the opening bars of the prelude the lush string sound of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra already had me. If there had been such a thing as a spine-tingleometer it would have been working in overdrive.

There are some you think that Aida should be re-named Amneris. I’m guessing, along with personal taste, that view would largely depend on the competing merits of each interpreter. On Saturday evening you couldn’t put a cigarette paper between the prima donnas and it was thrilling. The power and intensity of their performances, the subtle changes of colour and tone were mesmerising. Netrebko still has a sweet honey toned lyricism but there’s a power that simmers underneath; it staggers when it is released. I wondered whether all the comparisons with Leontyne Pryce would be the kiss of death, but after “O patria Mia” I knew what they were talking about. Anita Rachvelishvili’s chest voice is like a seductive gelato, something addictive and luscious. If she were a beer, she’d be Heineken. A fearless performer she was at turns vulnerable then imperious. In the Act 2 duet with Aida I fancied I saw deep into her soul.

There was a great turn too by Quinn Kelsey who gave some real emotional depth as a noble Amonasro. Ryan Speedo Green and Dmitry Belosselskiy weren’t slouches either. The real let down was Aleksandrs Antonenko. There are times when channelling Stentor might just do the business but beside such eloquent and elegant exponents of Verdi he simply didn’t cut the mustard. The brassy power in his lower register is certainly rousing enough, but his wayward tuning and sliding around like a crooner left him embarrassingly out-classed.

But he wasn’t going to spoil my party. If the rumours are true that this production is on its way out, apart from being sad not to have seen it in the flesh this performance will certainly serve as a fitting memory. I loved it even if it is just stand and sing.

The Metropolitan Opera
The Met : Live in HD
Barbican Screen 1
Saturday 6 October 2018
Aida : Anna Netrebko
Amneris: Anita Rachvelishvili
Radames : Aleksandrs Antonenko
Amonasro : Quinn Kelsey
Ramfis : Dmitry Belosselskiy
The King : Ryan Speedo Green
Conductor : Nicola Luisotti
Production : Sonja Frisell

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