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Aida from a Bygone Era

Gran Teatre del Liceu
01/13/2020 -  & January 14, 16, 17, 19, 20, 22, 23, 27, 28, 30*, 31, February 1, 2, 2020
Giuseppe Verdi: Aida
Angela Meade*/Jennifer Rowley (Aida), Yonghoon Lee*/Luciano Ganci/Walter Fraccaro (Radames), Clémentine Margaine*/Judit Kutasi (Amneris), Franco Vassallo*/Angel Odena (Amonasro), Kwangchul Youn*/Marko Mimica (Ramfis), Mariano Buccino (Il re), Josep Fadó (Messenger), Berna Perles (Sacerdotessa)
Coro Titular del Gran Teatre del Liceu, Conxita Garcia (chorus master), Orquesta Titular del Gran Teatre del Liceu, Gustavo Gimeno (conductor)
Thomas Guthrie (stage director), Josep Mestres Cabanes (sets), Jordi Castells (adaptation and restoration of the sets), Franca Squarciapino (costumes), Albert Faura (lighting), Angelo Simimmo (choreography)

(© Antoni Bofill)

Teatro Liceu had the brilliant idea of reviving a 75 years old production from its vault; one that was miraculously saved from the ravaging fire of 1994 that destroyed one of the world’s most prominent opera houses. Despite several other positive elements, Josep Mestres Cabanes’s sets were the star of the show. Most likely inspired by the lithographs of Scottish painter David Roberts (1796-1864), the historic sets are appealing thanks to their realism, the brilliance of details and the intelligent use of perspective to make the quite deep Liceu stage seem truly colossal. It is thus that grandeur is afforded to Verdi’s opera, written in the Meyerbeer “Grand Opera” style, without resorting to processions with an immense number of extras, elephants and horses.

The singing and staging were also, in part, reminiscent of productions from an ancient past. Stage director Thomas Guthrie did not direct the singers into credible scenic movements. Indeed, both due to a lack of direction and their own acting limitations, Angela Meade as Aida and Yonghoon Lee as Radames seemed like pre-WWII singers from the “park and bark” school of singing. They also evoked a vocal prowess that is much lacking in present day Verdi singing. Angela Meade impressed with her pianissimi and phrasing. Both her “Ritorna vincitor” and “O patria mia” were brilliantly sung, though the later was more moving. South Korean tenor Yonghoon Lee has an amazing powerhouse of a voice. His murderous opening aria, “Celeste Aida” was phenomenal. This difficult aria is the first thing Radames utters before having time to warm up. Lee managed it brilliantly and impressed with a beautiful B-flat in the final phrase “un trono vicino al sol”. On the negative side, his diction leaves much to be desired and describing his acting as wooden is a euphemism. Excellent vocally and dramatically was the French mezzo Clémentine Margaine who completely dominated the opera. Truly majestic, she convinced as Princess of Egypt, in contrast to Angela Meade’s captive Ethiopian princess who is either a very convincing captive or not as good an actress as she is a singer. Franco Vassallo’s Amonasro was menacing in general and towards his daughter Aida in particular. Despite his captivity, one could sense his defiance. His resonant baritone made him a convincing virile warrior king and his clear Italian diction was a true pleasure. Kwangchul Youn was an impressive and haughty Ramfis with his deep bass. His acting was equally convincing. Mariano Buccino, also a bass, was less remarkable as the King of Egypt.

Gustavo Gimeno led the Gran Teatre del Liceu’s orchestra with panache. The grandiose ceremonial moments, such as the Triumphal March and the finale to Act 2, were led with vigour but not excess as is often the case. In moments of intimacy, such as Aida’s “O patria mia”, the orchestral opening of Act III and the Act IV tomb scene, he led the orchestra with the required delicacy. The chorus was well rehearsed and excelled in Act II. Though the production was majestic, certain details could have been better. The Ethiopian captives that Radames brought back numbered only twelve: 4 men including Amonasro, 4 women and 4 children. This not exactly a menacing force, nor is their freeing a major request by Radames. Albert Faura’s lighting was effective especially in the Act III Nile scene and the Act IV tomb scene. The latter was movingly sung but the acting of the two dying heroes again echoed poor acting or non-acting from a foregone era.

Angelo Simimmo’s choreography was less spectacular than one expects in this opera. It seemed compromised by the stage director’s idée fixe of a tyrannical and blood thirsty reign in the Royal Court of Egypt. The Messenger was gratuitously roughed up. Excessive cruelty was demonstrated as the dancer dancing in the ceremony of appointing Radames as commander of the Egyptian army is killed by the priests. This is nowhere in Antonio Ghislanzoni’s libretto. Aida, a captive royal and companion to Aida, was constantly pushed and shoved by two bald Egyptian priests (not present in Aida’s libretto). Stage director Thomas Guthrie made these eunuchs major players in the drama to its detriment. The libretto is intense enough as it is, and superimposing imaginary bad characters only weakens the drama.

Ossama el Naggar



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