Timeless Aida still enchants

BY RICHARD JOHNSON Observer senior reporter

Monday, December 17, 2012

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THE line of love triangles continued this weekend at the Metropolitan Opera's Live in HD series with the presentation of Verdi's epic, Aida.

Superlatives fail in describing this majestic presentation set among the grandeur of ancient Egypt, and tracks the power struggle between Amneris, daughter of the Pharaoh and her Egyptian slave Aida, to win the heart of the army commander Radames.

Things take a turn for the worst when Egypt is invaded by Ethiopia and, much to his delight, Radames is commanded to lead his country into battle. However, this does not sit well with his two suitors, especially Aida whose father is King in Ethiopia and leading the insurgence.

Egypt is victorious and Radames returns in a blaze of glory. The Pharaoh grants Radames Amneris' hand in marriage and, as with the opera, all is never what it seems.

It is a Verdi opera and therefore the music is absolutely astounding. However, what is equally impressive is the staging of this masterpiece which debuted at the Cairo Opera House in 1871. The opera is set in Egypt's pyramids, palaces and temples, complete with footmen, handmaidens and the trapping which have added to the mystique of that African country.

The team from the 'Met' have outdone themselves in capturing the period. Radames' consecration in the temple of Vulcan is a beauty to behold. The magic of camera angles gives viewers of the Live in HD series stunning vistas during the pomp and ceremonious nature of this scene.

Just when one thought the majesty of the Verdi masterpiece could get no better, then comes Act II.

This includes the eagerly anticipated Triumphal March, which provided a feast for the eyes and ears. From the hydraulics to lower set pieces, bearing extras to the stage level, to the more than 400 cast members, and live horses. All this set against the backdrop of Verdi's famous music, led by trumpets, was amazing.

The music, set and staging is equally matched by the voices and acting in Aida.

Luidmyla Monastyrska who plays the title role, truly 'breaks a leg' with this, her Met debut, gliding into the role which has been played by the likes of opera diva Leontyne Price. The instrument possessed by this soprano is truly the toast of the production. Monstyrska's voice is matched by the incredible dramatic acting skills of Olga Borodina who plays her rival Amneris. Borodina's use of her eyes is classic.

Tenor Roberto Alagna as Radames truly represents for the males in the cast. His flair for the dramatic carries the essence of his character.

If there is one negative it would be the length of the production. With three lengthy intermissions it is a four-hour-plus experience. This duration may have been appreciated back in 1871, but in 2012 one could feel the time ticking, amidst great arias, stunning sets and a fantastic production.





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