Not-a-review: Aida, Royal Opera House

Not really a review because this was the general dress rehearsal of the first revival of David McVicar’s Aida to which the Royal Opera House’s marketing team had very kindly invited me and some other blogger-types. It was a fabulous afternoon, not least because I got to watch the first half from the Director’s Box and the second half from great front stalls seats, neither of which I don’t think I would ever get to sit in normally. The Director’s Box was great fun, a real chance to see and be seen by the rest of the audience and though the viewlines were a little tight on the side of the stage nearest to us, it was brilliant to be able to see straight down into the orchestra pit and see the players cutting loose and misbehaving a little whilst responding to the at-times frantic direction of Fabio Luisi. And the luxury of being able to sit in the stalls for the second half gave a different, wider perspective to the production, able to soak in the real depth of the staging.

This was my first time seeing Aida, a story both epic, in the war between the Ethiopians and the Egyptians, and intimate, in the tragic love triangle that emerges between Ethiopian slave Aida, Amneris the daughter of the King of Egypt and the man they both love, Radames the Captain of the Guard. And the first half is nothing short of epic, full of huge set pieces with innumerable personnel onstage as whether it is priests making dramatic human sacrifices and blood-letting or vast armies arriving onstage. The production incorporates a range of Eastern influences into the mix, but the samurai martial arts work was probably the most visually impressive.

Though the spectacle of the first half was truly stunning, it was the second half that really captured my attention with an unexpectedly intimate examination of the love triangle at the heart of the story. Roberto Alagna and Micaela Carosi shone as the doomed Radames and Aida, but it was the frustrated Amneris who really caught my heart with Olga Borodina’s powerful yet ultimately frustrated princess having to admit defeat. The scene where Radames was on trial was superbly played with the audience eavesdropping on proceedings from outside along with Amneris and it was heartbreaking to watch.

So a great trip, supplemented by a little backstage tour, chats with stage managers and Associate Directors who kindly gave up their valuable time to answer all sorts of random questions and give extra insight into the workings of putting an opera together and the changes that are made when reviving a production. I was particularly surprised at the late notice with which Alagna had been attached to the role, something which was thrown into even greater relief the next day when it was announced that Carosi was withdrawing due to pregnancy and Liudmyla Monastyrska was stepping in at the last minute, showing just how well-oiled a machine this is.

I heartily recommend that you take a look at the reports from some of others who were there as well though, both young and old, and not just because I still have lots to learn when it comes to opera: Jake’s account is a beautifully written story about a first trip to this austere institution and Johnny is able to locate this production within the several other productions of Aida that he has seen.

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