Monday, February 11, 2019

COSI FAN TUTTE – REVIVAL OF EGOYAN’S SUPERB COC PRODUCTION

James Karas

The Canadian Opera Company has very wisely revived Atom Egoyan’s 2014 production of Cosi Fan Tutte to go along with Richard Strauss’s Elektra for its winter season. It is a highly enjoyable and brilliant production and the only thing for you to do is high-tail it to the Four Seasons Centre for tickets. However, I will make a few comments on it.

There are two images that will mark this production in seeing it and in memory. The first is a large reproduction of Frida Kahlo’s surrealist painting The Two Fridas and the other is the setting of the opera in a school for lovers. 

Cosi Fan Tutte is about love, fidelity, treachery and reconciliation. You remember Ferrando and Guglielmo are in love (that does their passion an injustice) with Dorabella and Fiordiligi. They will not brook any doubt about the depth and constancy of their loves. Needless to say, the young ladies reciprocate in equal measure. Are women fickle? Don Alfonso bets that they are and to prove his point he has the men appear disguised as Albanians and woo the women. Guess what?
Johannes Kammler as Guglielmo, Emily D’Angelo as Dorabella, Kirsten MacKinnon 
as Fiordiligi and Ben Bliss as Ferrando. Photo: Michael Cooper
Love is a matter of the heart and the lovers in Cosi talk of broken hearts and ripping out hearts at the thought or fact of infidelity. Kahlo’s Two Fridas is a double self-portrait of the artist wearing a European dress, with an anatomically visible heart and a vein dripping blood on one side and of herself wearing a traditional Mexican dress, perhaps a broken heart and holding a portrait of her estranged husband in her hand. .

The two sisters of Cosi are very much alike but they are also very different and one can draw parallels between them and the two Fridas.   You can make whatever you want of the portrait as it relates to the production, but Egoyan makes sure that you pay attention to the details of the painting.

Rather than a café, Egoyan with Set Designer Debra Hanson, sets some of the action in a school for lovers. The “students” will make up the chorus and provide some humorous appearances. And you will see numerous large size butterflies and they can mean whatever you want but you may wish to think of them as symbols of freedom.

If you want to ignore all the above, you will still enjoy an effervescent, marvelously sung production. Start with soprano Kirsten MacKinnon as Fiordiligi, the sister who refuses to fall for the pursuing “Albanian.” She tells us she is solid as a rock in the octave-leaping aria “Come scoglio immoto resta” only to live to sing the gorgeous “Per pieta” asking for forgiveness.
 A scene from the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Così fan tutte, 2019, photo: Michael Cooper
Mezzo-soprano Emily D’Angelo as Dorabella is more easily convinced to fall for the Albanian visitor but we like her for her practical and perhaps even modern thinking about love. All protestations to the contrary, she understands human nature and the attraction of love at hand over love in the absence of a lover. Well sung, well done.

Tenor Ben Bliss and baritone Johannes Kammler as Ferrando and Guglielmo respectively are classic lovers, full of passion, hot wind, irrational thinking and splendid singing.  Baritone Russell Braun who sang Guglielmo in 2014 takes on the role of the philosopher Don Alfonso.

No Cosi is complete without a very good Despina. She is the sisters’ maid and plotting partner of Don Alfonso. Soprano Tracy Dahl is a spitfire of a singer and performer in the role. She is funny, sings with great verve and moves with amazing speed. A delight to see and hear.

Bernard Labadie conducts the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra and Mozart’s music is a sheer pleasure to hear.

With Egoyan at the helm, you may want to describe the production as the thinking man’s Cosi Fan Tutte but that may discourage some people from seeing it. Like the lovers at some point, you can enjoy the opera without thinking, if you so choose.     
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Cosi Fan Tutte by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with a libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte opened on February 5 and will be performed eight times until February 23, 2019 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario. Tel:  416-363-6671. www.coc.ca

Monday, February 4, 2019

ELEKTRA – REVIEW OF CANADIAN OPERA COMPANY PRODUCTION

James Karas

“Disgusting” and “degenerate” are the words used to describe Richard Strauss’s Elektra. No, not the current production by the Canadian Opera Company (which is quite thrilling) but its first staging in England in 1910.

Strauss’s 4th opera, by turning Greek mythology on its head, has aroused incredible passions, but the complex score and Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s masterly libretto provide a powerful operatic experience.

Strauss and Hofmannsthal throw the idealized view of Greek culture into the dustbin. Their Elektra although based on Sophocles’ play features a woman who is unhinged and whose sole mission in life is revenge. Her father was brutally murdered by her mother Klytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus. Now Elektra wants to kill both of them.
 Christine Goerke as Elektra (at left) in a scene from the COC's production of 
Elektra, 2019, photo: Michael Cooper
 Director James Robinson in the revival of his 2007 production takes a middle road in his portrayal of Elektra. He does not overplay her madness or the squalor of her life but gives us a woman who is consumed by hatred and a desire for revenge but who is not completely deranged. 

Soprano Christine Goerke (a notable and well-known Wagnerian, especially to Torontonians) delivers a powerful and obsessed Elektra. She is on stage longer than the rest of the characters and from her opening howl of “Agamemnon” to her final eruption of joy at the end, she dominates the production. Robinson does not make much of Elektra’s final dance of triumph before she drops dead. This is not Salome but the scene could use a few more dramatic steps. 

Elektra is very much an orchestra versus the singers opera and unfortunately there were a few occasions when the orchestra overshadowed not to say drowned out Goerke. They struck me as unnecessary lapses in balance between stage and pit and did not detract from Goerke’s overall thrilling performance.

Soprano Erin Wall sings Chrysothemis, Elektra’s sister, who dreams of a life that involves children and is not consumed by hatred. Wall is better known for lyric soprano roles and Strauss puts the same vocal requirements on Chrysothemis as he does on Elektra. Happily, Wall belts out her part with power and resonance and shows that she can handle Strauss as well as Mozart.

Soprano Susan Bullock who sang Brunnhilde in the COC’s Ring Cycle of 2006-2007, sings the role of the troubled Klytemnestra. After the description by Elektra of how Klytemnestra murdered Agamemnon in the bath with an axe, our sympathy for her is limited but Bullock makes her more pathetic than loathsome. For those with long memories, Bullock sang Elektra in COC’s 2007 production.

Her lover Aegisthus (tenor Michael Schade) gets no sympathy as a character but Schade gets kudos for his performance.

Bass Wilhelm Schwinghammer plays Orestes, the key person in effecting the revenge and the most important male role in the opera as the instrument of revenge. Otherwise it is a relatively small role but the recognition scene is done well and Orestes does his job as does the singer.
A scene from the COC’s production of Elektra, 2019, photo: Michael Cooper
The set by Derek McLane is a challenge to understand. A few steps lead to the courtyard of the palace where the floor is tilted to the right. There is a wall with two entrances on the right which are rarely used and what looks like a garden shed at the rear. This is Klytemnestra’s entrance and when the door is opened we see gilded walls. The set may well represent the confused interior of Elektra’s mind. 

The costumes by Anita Stewart are 19th century dresses for the women and black suits of the era for the men. This is not a throwback to fifth century Athens but an original view of the Greek myth

Elektra may well be described as an opera starring the orchestra and some outstanding singers. Strauss demanded a large orchestra and from the opening thunderclap of Agamemnon’s motif to the final dance sequence and death of Elektra the music is electrifying. Johannes Debus and the COC Orchestra perform magnificently.

The ills of the mythical House of Atreus lasted for five generations have been around since the dawn of western civilization. They have inspired countless works including over 100 operas alone. Klytemnestra is queen of Argos or Mycenae not of Thebes as stated in the programme. The version of their story that inspired Strauss and Hofmannsthal about a century ago reached back across the eons to shock people in 1910 and thrill us in the 21st century.

Go see it.  
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Elektra by Richard Strauss opened on January 26 and will be performed a total of seven times on various dates until February 22, 2019 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario. Tel:  416-363-6671. www.coc.ca

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

DIE FLEDERMAUS – REVIEW OF TORONTO OPERETTA THEATRE PRODUCTION

James Karas

There is no reference to New Year’s Eve in Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus but there should have been. In any event it is frequently performed in late December as if the plot does take place on New Year’s Eve and the Toronto Operetta Theatre is producing it for five performances including one on December 31.

With its bubbly music, wonderful arias and farcical plot, Die Fledermaus pretty much defines what an operetta should be. TOT’s General Director Guillermo-Silva-Marin knows that and knows how to entertain Toronto’s niche of operetta lovers.
 
Lara Ciekiewicz (Rosalinda) and Cian Horobbin (Alfred). 
Photo: Gary Beechey, BDS Studios
The production is done sensibly in English, a relief for those who may remember the Canadian Opera Company’s 2012 dreary, Freudian psychodrama of a production. Silva-Marin takes generous liberties with the libretto and the result is very entertaining.

You recall that Gabriel Eisenstein (tenor Adam Fisher), a well-off Viennese business man, has to spend a few nights in jail because (in his unsubstantiated opinion) he had Dr. Blind (Sean Curran), an incompetent lawyer as his counsel. He also has a friend named Falke (Michael Robert-Broder) who has a score to settle with him. Falke is The Bat of the title and he wants to humiliate Eisenstein and the plot twists are his machinations.     

Eisenstein has a beautiful wife named Rosalinda. Alfred (Cian Horrobin) an opera tenor and old pursuer of Rosalinda, is prepared to replace Eisenstein in her arms while the latter cools his heels in jail.

In the meantime, the wily maid Adele (Caitlin Wood) wants to go to a ball at Prince Orlovsky’s mansion, as do Eisenstein and Dr. Blind. To cut to the chase, Mr. and Mrs. Eisenstein, Adele, her sister Sally (Olivia Morton), and Dr. Blind all go the party in disguise.  Alfred who happened to be wooing Rosalinda when Frank (Janaka Welihinda) the prison governor came to pick up Eisenstein, ends up jail. Are you still with me?

Now we have Strauss’s infectious music, his sparkling and buoyant arias and a plot with mistaken identities that provides opportunities for comedy.   

Conductor Derek Bate has twelve musicians in his orchestra and twelve singers for his chorus. That may not seem like much of a force but seem and sound are not the same thing. The musicians and the singers create energy and wonderful instrumental and ensemble singing that simply belie their number.

There was inevitable unevenness in the singing by the rest of the cast but overall they did justice to the operetta and the full house in the Jane Mallet Theatre showed their appreciation.
 

Adam Fisher (Eisenstein) and Lara Ciekiewicz (Rosalinda). 
Photo: Gary Beechey, BDS Studios
Soprano Lara Ciekiewicz played Rosalinda as a woman of statuesque beauty, class and vocal splendor. Caitlin Wood’s Adele was effervescent, wily and a pleasure though I could have done without the speech impediment she was given at the beginning.

Cian Horrobin’s Alfred was the mythical tenor. Self-assured, exuberant, brash and a lover who can’t imagine any woman saying no to him. Silva-Marin has interpolated half a dozen or so arias or parts of arias by Puccini and Verdi for Alfred to show off his ardor and his vocal prowess.

The multi-talented Elizabeth Beeler played Prince Orlovsky, a role originally scored for a mezzo soprano and frequently sung by a woman ever since. I have seen Beeler many times do fine work but this time she was not at her best.

Silva-Marin leaves no politician, celebrity or current event unturned when it comes to adding comic touches. He takes on and expands the role of Frosch the jailer himself. Alfred gives him singing lessons including points about posture – you have to be able to hold a dime between your cheeks!     

The plot of Die Fledermaus is wafer-thin in places and prone to developing cracks if not handled properly and Silva-Marin comes close to doing just that but overall the comedy works as does the delightful production.
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Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss II opened on December 28, 2018 and will be performed five times until January 2, 2019 at the Jane Mallett, Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, 27 Front Street East, Toronto, Ontario. Tel:  (416) 366-7723. www.torontooperetta.com

Monday, October 29, 2018

ACTÉON AND PYGMALION – REVIEW OF TWO GEMS FROM OPERA ATELIER

James Karas

Opera Atelier has chosen two one-act gems for its fall production. They are Charpentier’s Actéon and Rameau’s Pygmalion, works based on Greek myths that are wonderfully antithetical and complementary. I have a feeling that Marshall Pynkoski and Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg, the Co-Artistic Directors of Opera Atelier, commissioned these works for the current season. Yes, I know that Actéon has been around since 1684 and Pygmalion premiered in 1748, but I have no time to be confused by facts.

Mr. Pynkoski as a director, wanted operas and Ms Zingg as a choreographer wanted ballets. They convinced the two composers to give them operas-cum-ballet or perhaps the other way around to maintain gender equilibrium. Ms Zingg deserves the concession since she is celebrating her 33rd year with Opera Atelier.
  The company of Actéon. Photo by Bruce Zinger.
Actéon, you will no doubt recall, is the Theban prince who loves hunting but is indifferent to the love of women. He worships Diana (or Artemis for the purists) the virgin goddess of the hunt who prefers the company of nymphs and four-legged creatures in the forest to anyone else’s company. No erotic love, please.

Actéon has heard that a bear is despoiling Diana’s forest and he goes with his friend to get rid of the creature that is harming the goddess that he worships. Completely by happenstance, he sees Diana bathing au naturel. That is verboten and Diana decides to punish him. She turns the hunter Actéon into a stag and his dogs have him for lunch. Not a happy ending.

Pygmalion is different. He is great artist and sculpts a beautiful woman. Being a romantic, he falls in love with the statue and prays to Venus, the goddess of love, to do something about his passion. Enter Eros who brings the statue to life.  His girlfriend Céphise is not too pleased and storms out of his studio. The statue becomes Galatea and is taught to dance, falls in love with Pygmalion and they live happily ever after.

The moral of the stories being that if you interact with goddesses, forget chastity (yours or the god’s), find out how she feels about being seen naked and go for art instead of hunting.

The production of the two gems is a visual and aural delight. Tenor Colin Ainsworth sings Actéon, the chaste but impassioned worshipper of Diana and the equally passionate but perfectly human Pygmalion. He modulates his voice beautifully to the demands of Baroque opera and we enjoy every note of it.

The splendidly-voiced soprano Mireille Asselin, (like Ainsworth, a veteran of Opera Atelier productions) sings the roles of Diana and Eros in beautifully executed performances.      
 Colin Ainsworth and Meghan Lindsay (centre) with Artists of 
Atelier Ballet in Pygmalion. Photo by Bruce Zinger
Soprano Meghan Lindsay sings Aréthuze in Actéon and Galatea in Pygmalion. When a statue is given life by Eros and she tells you that her first desire is to please you, you have a winner and Ms Lindsay convinces us that we do.

The solo vocal singing is supplemented by the Chorus of the University of Toronto Schola Cantorum with members of the Choir of the Theatre of Early Music and they are simply superb.

Ballet forms an integral part of Actéon and Pygmalion. The hunters and the nymphs in Actéon and the dances performed in teaching Galatea to dance in Pygmalion display Ms Zingg’s choreographic talent and the exquisiteness of the Artists of Atelier Ballet. 

Gerard Gauci’s sets emphasize the beauty of the mythical world as do the costumes by Gauci for Actéon and Michael Gianfrancesco for Pygmalion.

The Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra conducted by David Fallis brings the full aural pleasure of the music to the fore.

In the end you are transported to, dare I say it, almost magically to the mythical world of Ancient Greece as seen by two Baroque French composers and brought to life, almost Galatea-like, by the artists of Opera Atelier.
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Actéon by Marc-Antoine Charpentier and Pygmalion by Jean-Philippe Rameau, presented by Opera Atelier, run until November 3, 2018 at the Elgin Theatre, 189 Yonge Street, Toronto. www.operaatelier.com

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

HADRIAN – REVIEW OF CANADIAN OPERA COMPANY 2018 PRODUCTION

James Karas

The world premiere of a new opera? Reach for the trumpet and start blowing.

A new opera by a Canadian librettist and a Canadian-American composer? Get the entire brass section to announce the news.

Commissioned by the Canadian Opera company? Get the whole orchestra to play The Triumphal March fortissimo. This is too good to miss or be quiet about.

Composer Rufus Wainwright and librettist Daniel MacIvor have chosen the story of the Roman Emperor Hadrian who ruled, in the words of Edward Gibbon, during the “happy period” of the Roman Empire when it “comprehended the fairest part of the earth, and the most civilised portion of mankind.”

The COC commendably and sensibly has recruited a largely Canadian cast and artistic team without ignoring more internationally known artists such as Thomas Hampson, Karita Mattila and Ben Heppner (our own, yanked out of retirement).
 Thomas Hampson as Hadrian and Isaiah Bell as Antinous. 
Photo: Michael Cooper
The effort gets a standing ovation but the result gets polite applause for some of its aspects. The biggest problem I think is the libretto. MacIvor is too ambitious by a half and in his attempts to encompass a large number of topics he sows confusion and a certain amount of ennui.

MacIvor tells us that Hadrian is about the last day of the emperor’s life and he seems to take three hours (including intermission) to die. Wainwright tells us that the opera “is a surreal romp through time and space, mixing true occurrences with complete fabrication in order to illustrate a vivid ‘creative snap shot’ of the classical era.”

The interesting part of Hadrian’s life that seems to have drawn both Mac Ivor and Wainwright is his homosexual involvement with a young Greek named Antinous over a period of six years. But MacIvor goes after many other themes and in other dimensions.

I can only give a short description of what happens. Hadrian is on his deathbed grieving over his lover Antinous who drowned in the Nile a year ago under mysterious circumstances. But within a few minutes of the opening of the opera, Hadrian is visited by the ghosts of the Emperor Trajan (his predecessor) and his wife the Empress Plotina. The latter offers Hadrian two nights with Antinous and “the truth” about his death, if he will sign a document that will guarantee her eternal survival. She is already a deity but those monotheistic Nazarenes and Jews of Judea seem to pose a real threat.
Plotina now takes us back to the good times of seven years earlier when Hadrian met Antinous. I have no idea what world we are in or in whose imagination we are. A Sybil (I won’t tell you who she is) predicts that Antinous will sacrifice and become a saviour. I have no idea if this is something that Plotina makes Hadrian imagine or something he actually saw when he met Antinous or something that she invents for whatever reason, perhaps immortality.

Six years later, in some undefined world on the Nile, Hadrian and Antinous make love. Hadrian asks Plotina to change the rules – presumably of the imaginary visit with Antinous on the night of the latter’s death and she refuses. We are aware that Hadrian is deathly ill and since this is supposed to be surreal, sense and logic go out the window.

Hadrian goes in and out of this world; a Sybil appears again and tells Hadrian that he can be cured if there is a sacrifice. A sacrifice is ready but the Sybil admits that she is a fraud.

Hadrian, on one of his visits to this world, signs a decree ending Judea and monotheism and making Plotina happy because she will live forever. As I said, she is already a deity and I am not sure what living forever means.

MacIvor and Wainwright embrace enough subjects to make you think you are watching CNN for far too long. The clash between the polytheistic Roman religion and the encroaching monotheistic religion of the Jews and the Christians. The end of Judea and the birth of Palestine. If I heard correctly, the genocide of the Jews by Hadrian, the survival of the Roman Empire. The coming of a saviour.
 
A scene from the C0C’s world premiere production of Hadrian, 2018. 
Photo: Michael Cooper
Wainwright’s music with its long phrases goes a long way in relieving the tortuous plot but it cannot save it. Baritone Thomas Hampson does a marvelous job as he intones his lover’s name and makes fine use of his sonorous voice in life and death. Soprano Karita Mattila is an impressive Plotina as is Roger Honeywell as Trajan. Tenor Isaiah Bell is a sympathetic lover with a fine voice when he is allowed to be but once we know that he and Hadrian are homoerotic lovers we don’t need that much illustration of their love-making.


The most successful and impressive aspects of the production are the sets by Michael Gianfranceso, the lighting designs by Bonnie Beecher and the projection designs by Laurie-Shawn Borzovoy. The opening scene is dominated by the projection of an oversize statue of Hadrian and a large sarcophagus. We have a night sky with a moon later that looks stunning and a view of the flowing Nile. The scenes are simply stunning.

Peter Hinton, a man of the theatre, directs a staging with high production values. Johannes Debus conducted the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra in a production that deserves to be announced and celebrated with the Triumphal March but perhaps with a bit less fortissimo that we would have liked.    
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Hadrian by Rufus Wainwright (music) and Daniel MacIvor (libretto) is being performed seven times between October 13 and 27, 2018 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario.  www.coc.ca

Thursday, October 18, 2018

EUGENE ONEGIN – REVIEW OF CANADIAN OPERA COMPANY 2018 PRODUCTION

James Karas

The Canadian Opera Company has launched its 2018-2019 season with a production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin to be followed by Hadrian, a world premiere of a new opera by Rufus Wainwright. This production of Eugene Onegin was directed by Robert Carsen for New York’s Metropolitan Opera and premiered at Lincoln Centre in 1997. The COC has borrowed all scenery and costumes from the Met.

Tchaikovsky’s lush score requires a baritone (for Onegin), a soprano, (for the lovely, romantic Tatyana) a tenor (for the poet Lensky) and a mezzo-soprano (for Tatyana’s sister Olga). I am not denigrating the secondary characters at all and listen to them with pleasure. The COC is quite well equipped for all the roles and what’s more, they are mostly Canadians.
Joyce El-Khoury as Tatyana. Photo: Michael Cooper
Robert Carsen (he is from Toronto) is one of the best opera directors in the world and has done brilliant work using minimalist sets. I think this production of Eugene Onegin would rank as one of his less successful efforts.

During the overture, we see a man on the empty stage seated in a chair reading. We assume it is Onegin and it is an appropriate image of the loner and perhaps eccentric “hero” of the opera. 

The opera opens on a Russian country estate where the peasants sing some pleasant songs. It is harvest time and Carsen and set designer Michael Levine use fallen leaves and orange walls to suggest the season. Aside from a table and a couple of stools there is nothing else on the stage. Except for indicating the season, the set does not communicate anything about time, place or atmosphere.

The famous Letter Scene where Tatyana spends most of the night composing a letter to the haughty Onegin is likewise done on a bed with no other furniture and again it looks pretty barren and the moon does not help.

For the ball scene in Act II a part of the stage is enclosed with chairs and the well-dressed guests try or pretend to waltz. The space is tight and most of the guests either do not know how to waltz or there is not enough room for any twirling.

For the dawn duel between Lensky and Onegin, we see only silhouettes of the men in the morning fog which may be acceptable but not really necessary.

We have much better luck with the singers. Soprano Joyce El-Koury has a lovely, supple voice and exudes youth and innocence as the teenager who falls in love with an older man who is not interested in her or perhaps any other woman.

Bass-baritone Gordon Bintner has an impressive voice and physique but he sang under the disability of a cold. There were times when he did not have the vocal power to dazzle us and no doubt it was because of the cold.
 (centre) Joyce El-Khoury as Tatyana and Gordon Bintner as Eugene Onegin. 
Photo: Michael Cooper
Tenor Joseph Kaiser sang a moving and finely-toned Lensky. He sings tenderly of his lost youth, of his love for Olga and the possibility of his death in the duel with his friend Onegin.

Mezzo-soprano Varduhi Abrahamyan has marvelous voice that can be described metaphorically as plush dark velvet or delicious dark chocolate especially in her lower register (and damn the mixed metaphors). She sang the role of Olga and I hope I did not understate my delight in hearing her.

A final note about the direction. Several years pass between the duel and the next scene in the opera which takes place in a palace in St. Petersburg. While the orchestra plays the polonaise that opens Act III, half a dozen servants fuss over and put together Onegin. This is right after the duel with no pause to indicate the passage of time or the change of scene. Onegin’s first words after the polonaise is that he is bored.

Johannes Debus conducted the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra in a production that has far more plusses than reasons for grouchiness and was received quite heartily by the audience.    
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Eugene Onegin by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky is being performed eight times between September 30 and November 3, 2018 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario. Tel:  416-363-6671. www.coc.ca

Sunday, October 14, 2018

AIDA – REVIEW OF LIVE FROM THE MET BROADCAST

Reviewed by James Karas

The Triumphal March from Aida is probably the defining image of opera for many people. There are productions that give the impression that the local zoo was raided for large animals to march across the stage as the heroic Radames returns from the war with the captured Ethiopians and their king in tow. Verdi’s thrilling music, the Metropolitan Opera Chorus, the large number of extras and the imposing set provide an electrifying scene that is simply overwhelming. And yes there are horses for good measure but no other animals such as elephants and giraffes.

Sonja Frisell’s production with Gianni Quaranta’s monumental sets premiered in 1988 and   has held its place in the Met’s repertoire ever since with numerous cast changes. The attention this time was directed on Anna Netrebko who is singing her first Aida. She has the magical combination of vocal and star power to rivet attention on herself and she does not fail.     
A scene from Act 2 of Verdi’s "Aida" Photo: Marty Sohl/Met Opera
Listen to her first act great aria, “Ritorna vincitor!” for a bravura performance. She wants Radames, her lover and commander of the Egyptian forces, to defeat the Ethiopians and her father King Amonasro. It is a passionate and wrenching aria that requires vocal heights and emotional breadth and Netrebko delivers on all accounts.

“O patria mia” is another demanding aria in which fear, nostalgia, longing pain for the loss of her home and a desire for death as the only escape are mixed as Aida considers her future. She is a captive Ethiopian princess who must choose between love of country and love of a man, an Egyptian hero no less, with her father the King of Ethiopia thrown in for good measure. Netrebko captures all of the emotional turmoil passion and vocal splendour.

Aida’s competition for the love of Radames is the Egyptian princess Amneris, the daughter of the King. In this production Georgian mezzo soprano Anita Rachvelishvili provides a balance if not competition for Netrebko.  She has a splendid mezzo voice that can produce a wonderful dark notes and emotional range as a woman torn with love, jealousy, anger and in the end rejection.

Tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko is an outstanding singer who does a much better job as a military leader than as an emotional lover. With Netrebko and Rachvelishvili as his opposites, he tends to get buried but he deserves full credit for his performance in the Act II duet.

Quinn Kelsey sings the role of King Amonasro who is captured by the Egyptians and has the tough job of convincing his daughter to convince her lover Radames to betray his gods and his country. Kelsey pulls on all the motional heartstrings and succeeds in a fine performance.    
Anna Netrebko as Aida and Anita Rachvelishvili as Amneris in Verdi's "Aida."
Photo: Marty Sohl / Met Opera
On the huge Lincoln Centre Stage, the massive Egyptian sculptures, the lifts that can move sets around and the army of people created by the chorus and the extras give the impression that this is not a live performance in a theatre but a scene from, say, Cecil, B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments. You almost expect the Red Sea to part.

Nicola Luisotti conducted the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Chorus and Ballet in spectacular performances becoming the production.

Aida is the first opera to be broadcast from Lincoln Centre for the 13th season of Live in HD from the Met. For people who are unlikely to go to New York or have no opera available within reachable distance or cannot afford the price of a ticket anywhere, Live from the Met provides a great solution. You get to see ten operas every year at a sensible price from one of the world’s great opera companies.

Aida by Giuseppe Verdi was shown Live in HD at select Cineplex theatres across Canada on October 6, 2018 and can be seen again on November 3, 5, 7 and 11, 2018. For more information go to: www.cineplex.com/events