wed 17/09/2014

Aida, Royal Opera House | Opera reviews, news & interviews

Aida, Royal Opera House

New production shows off the best and worst that David McVicar has to offer

The hero and the slave-girl: Micaela Carosi as Aida and Marcelo Alvarez as RadamesBill Cooper/ ROH

David McVicar's new Aida production had an opening mise en scène of such unashamed ugliness, a revolving main feature (a wall of scaffolding) of such audacious featurelessness, a wardrobe of such brazen tastelessness (think Dungeons and Dragons), that my critical faculties sort of went into a coma. I looked on, my mouth so wide open I was virtually dribbling, wondering what had happened to the great McVicar, praying for the return of a refreshed and fragrant reality, imagining that something - a fire, a flood - might intervene on my behalf between now and the end of the opera to restore the stage to sanity. And you know what happened? A miracle. By the start of Act II, the aesthetic cretinism had gone and many things of beauty and thought began to creep out onto stage.

Aida may be an opera-by-numbers, lurching between sclerotic clunk and clunking sclerosis, but it does contain some scene-stealing moments

Coursing through this new-found aesthetic coherence were nudity and ideas - fresh ones. The work, not famous for a dramatic litheness, seemed from here on in to acquire an ever-increasing speed. It had grown a combustion engine. We left the end of Act I in a burst of Bacchanalian blood-thirstiness - in which a topless, frieze-like movement among a group of murderous slave girls is unleashed on a human prey - and we sped into a highly pornographic, highly good value, orgiastic dance in Act II. McVicar imagines the barbaric, processional world of Aida as a repository for all our best-loved dystopias. One such dystopia is the dissolute court, as represented by that surrounding Amneris, the jealous suitor to war hero Radames, all of which nicely leads the mind to world of Salome.

Beyond this courtly formality and sexual violence are characters and costumes, processions and events that allude to a syncretic amalgam of every primitively vegetative and anomically advanced society we have ever attempted to conjure up. Hence, an indigenous barbarism dances around a post-industrial apocalypse. And a real show emerges, one full of leering voodoo, nubile ladies, bloodied gladiators engaging in martial art aggro and a cloud of human carcasses swinging from the rafters. So a bumpy start, but McVicar ultimately does come up with the goods. As does Verdi. Aida may be an opera-by-numbers, lurching between sclerotic clunk and clunking sclerosis, but it does contain some scene-stealing moments. The clarinet in act four, the flute at the beginning of act three that is the perfect misty accompaniment to Aida and Radames' water-borne elopement.

Voices rang out simply and often crudely. Robert Lloyd (the King of Egypt) was the definition of stentorian. Marianne Cornetti's Amneris was vocally if not theatrically effortless. Marcelo Alvarez (Radames) was the consummate hothead. Micaela Carosi (Aida) delivered her lines with a particular full-bodiedness and amazing disregard for the well-tempered scale.

It wasn't a cast with much holding power. The final scene saw all the voices cracking, thinning and sagging like an old face. Luisotti kept the orchestra going at a decently pacey standard. And, by the third act, McVicar had yet again run out of ideas. And still that bizarre chunk of scaffold, like some forlorn memorial to the decline of the building trade, kept revolving. McVicar at his best and worst.

Coursing through this new-found aesthetic coherence were nudity and ideas - fresh ones

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Blimey. I went tonight (Thurs 13th May) and thought it was excellent. Based on previous viweings of live performances of Aida at various houses (including Verona) it seems for some reason to be a difficult opera to get "right" - not quite sure why, but that's certainly been my viewing/listening experience. I thought the last CG attempt was truly awful - I actually did not stay to the end, for only the second time in my life (if I've paid, I'm gonna stick it out in case it gets better!!). Fascinated by those who think this one was worse. I think it was far better in every single aspect. The conductor, orchestra and chorus were outstanding. A great reading. I thought the principals ranged from outstanding to very good. Cannot understand the criticisms of Carosi's performance. Can only assume she performed very differently because the remarks above are objectively not consistent with the performance I heard (only loud or very loud? On Thurs she excelled especially in the "quiet" bits, of which she produced a whole load, and etremely effectively). I thought the costumes and lightly excellent for the most part, and was happy enough with the staging ; I don't agree staging must needs be either "literal" or "radical", with no other option. I accept that anyone unfamiliar with the opera might have struggled in parts if they relied wholly on staging to tell them what was happening. But you could level that comment at 90% of opera (and even straight theatre), and (especially since surtitles) you don't rely wholly on staging to work out what is going on. Nope, my companion and I thoroughly enjoyed the performance, and thought it was well worth going. (and agree wholeheartedly with the decision to ditch both director and conductor - yep, sorry - after the last CG effort at Aida)
What a wasted opportunity, by the sound of it. Worth remembering that the Robert Wilson production which only lasted a single run before this took its place had some faults - chiefly when Wilson's customary hieratic slow motion didn't tally with the music - but ended with one of the most beautiful tableaux I've ever seen on stage, Radames's blue face against a blue cyclorama. And what a pity Covent Garden didn't jump to engage one of at least two outstanding black Aidas - I saw one of them, Adina Aarons, at Savonlinna, and she was superlatively good. For once, although the rest of the cast was excellent, she didn't have the scene stolen from her by the Amneris. Incidentally, the two above mentioned Aidas were the only ones I haven't walked out of (in the other instances, I should add, I wasn't reviewing...)
This was the most boring, gloomy, ramshackle, unemotional, under rehearsed, badly sung, poorly played, hysterically danced mess I have ever seen at Covent Garden and I have seen a few turkeys believe you me. There was not one aspect to redeem it. I say ‘seen’ but we made our escape as the blue gauze thankfully came down in between scenes at the end of act 1 - we had seen enough. The earlier than expected cocktails at One Aldwych were however blissful. From operas seen at the House in the last few months ROH badly needs a hit
Overall, it was terrible - not sure your review said that bluntly enough. It's no good having a production working in some places and completely failing in others - you're supposed to be hearing a whole story, which doesn't work if the beginning and end fail. In my mind, the middle was not much better. There was so much promise from the interviews and stories that came out before the first night. Getting rid of direct references to Egypt I though was a great idea. But you have to replace it with something clear; with the mixture of samurai, alien and Tolkien's Middle Earth, there seems to be no cohesive idea; there's no sense of religion, state and most importantly, the personal relationships of Aida/Radames/Amneris (no help given by some of the worse direction I have seen on stage). From what I could see, love between Aida and Radames was at most luke-warm and for some strange reason Amneris reminded me of a Klytemnestra - a different generation... No heed taken to a complex feeling we should have for Amneris; I think, one primarily of pity. In this production, no such depth. My ideal Aida would be much more bare, much more simple; I never thought I would say this, but more like Robert Wilson's terrible production than McVicar's hopeless one; at least with Wilson, you could lose the weird arm movements and gestures and there was a nice simplicity that allows the showcase of what should be the most important thing of the night - the music. Which was a not much better in this current run at Covent Garden. The conductor (with orchestra and chorus) saves the day and this is a fantastic reading of the score - perhaps the only reason for going to this Aida. Of the soloists, Amonasro and Amneris stood out (though I think Zajick remains a superior choice). Radames (Alvarez) is in wonderful voice, though not ideal as Radames yet - no big heroism of Vickers, or yet the fresh heroism of Carreras. To be honest, I must admit that, with today's tenors, I do prefer Alagna in this role. The huge let down was Aida (Carosi). I have somehow managed not to hear her singing until last night. The fact that the Royal Opera has engaged her again for Aida next season (first revival) was promising in my mind. But she was an utter disaster. I am never normally this unforgiving about any musician, but she has no place as Aida on the Covent Garden stage. She can go very loud and ridiculously loud - and that's it. There's no beauty, no colours, no variation. Don't think to ask for soft or subtle singing or a light phrase when needed. Absolutely awful. Even the audience (who from the clapping in strange places were not too familiar with the music) were reserved in their applause for Carosi. All in all, there were bits of good singing (oh, Robert Lloyd included here), but with the advantage of hindsight, I'd give this a miss, get your opera fix with Florez and Dessay coming up next, and wait till Boccanegra for some proper Verdi (production and cast).
Erm - hello? A bit more about the singers? The baritone Amonasro? Not good enough to register? Anyway, the prospect you paint doesn't sound mouthwatering even in the good bits.
This is a largely accurate representation of the performance. Alas.

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