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Spectacle and triumph

State Theatre
05/06/2021 -  & May 8, 10, 12, 15, 17, 19, 21, 2021
Giuseppe Verdi: Aida
Leah Crocetto (Aida), Elena Gabouri (Amneris), Stefano La Colla (Radamès), Michael Honeyman (Amonasro), Alexander Vinogradov*/David Parkin (Ramfis), Gennadi Dubinsky (The King), Jane Ede (High Priestess), Dean Bassett (Messenger), Opera Australia Dancers
Opera Australia Chorus, Paul Fitzsimon (Chorus Master), Orchestra Victoria, Tahu Matheson (Conductor)
Davide Livermore (Director), Shane Placentino (Revival Director), Giò Forma (Set Designer), Gianluca Falaschi (Costume Designer), D-Wok (Digital content Designer), John Rayment (Lighting Designer)

(© Jeff Busby)

To be back in the enormous auditorium of Melbourne’s State Theatre after such a long absence is a thrill in itself. To be back with one of Australia’s premier performing companies which suffered near catastrophic harm because of the pandemic is added excitement; and to be witness to many company debut performances in Verdi’s grand Egyptian tale, made this a very special evening indeed.

There was an exhilarating buzz through the foyers as a huge audience mingled, adjusting to the now uncommon sensation of being in a large crowd. It was encouraging to see the multi-aged assembly dressed in finery to rejoice at this long-awaited return to the stage. Excitement and expectation were evident from the moment the lights went down and we collectively realised that in this, we had returned to something like “normal”.

OA Artist Director Lyndon Terracini and colleagues have chosen two Verdi operas to form the only recently-announced short season for Melbourne to mark the company’s return. Spectacle and extravagance are the orders of the day and this re-staging of the company’s entry into the world of digital productions marks a triumphal homecoming.

The production is designed around ten massive LED screens which rotate, move around the stage to frame the tableaux of this opera. For, despite the libretto talking of sweeping action, great battles and monumentally grand events, the first two acts are almost completely static, moving from one grand tableau to the next with ballet interceptions. The digital screens allow sweeping panoramas of the desert, vistas of the towering walls of the palace and temple and moody skyscapes of blood red clouds or shimmering moonlight over the water of the Nile. It is a highly effective design scheme made more evocative when images of a snarling panther loom behind the threatening Amneris, or golden serpents coil in the spaces around a power crazed Ramfis.

Italian director Davide Livermore has captured the enormity of Verdi’s visual spectacle in the static scenes and employed the glistening moonlight to frame the intimacy of the third act which is essentially a series of long duets. In the final act, the immensity of the punishment for the doomed lovers is frighteningly real set against gigantic black walls as the stone which will seal their fate is lowered by a vengeful Amneris.

American soprano Leah Crocetto makes her Opera Australia debut as Aida and brings warmth of tone and agility of range to the role. She possesses a powerful voice which rises with ease above the greatly expanded chorus and orchestra. Her delivery in “Ritorna vincitor!” was full of emotional tension and displayed the dexterous coloratura for which she is renowned. Also appearing for the first time with Opera Australia, Italian tenor Stefano La Colla cuts a virile and dashing figure as the hero Radamès. He is a dominating presence on the age and a commanding voice in the massive ensemble scenes.

As Amneris, Elena Gabouri makes a dazzling return to the company and the role which she performed when this production was first given in 2018. Her impressively versatile instrument ranges from a rich, dark chest voice to a searing upper register as her anger and desperation grow. Hers was a superb interpretation and one of the standout performances of the evening. Russian bass Alexander Vinogradov commands the entire stage each time he is present. His voice is remarkable for is clarity, range and power. His stentorian tone and suppleness of vocal line made his one of the vocal triumphs of the performance. Joining the international stars, Opera Australia regulars Jade Ede, Gennadi Dubinsky and Michael Honeyman fleshed out the principal roles. All gave intelligent support to the leads and carried a very successful ensemble production.

OA Head of Music Tahu Matheson lead the orchestra in an assured and precise reading of the score. He held the pace of dramatic advancement while allowing for many subtle shades and colours in the more intimate moments. The slow fade of the final bars of the opera were delicately poised against the monstrous on-stage action to deliver an emotionally compelling and haunting finale.

As much as Aida is an opera dependant on its star principals, it relies heavily upon the power and dexterity of the chorus. Expanded to sixty singers under the direction of Paul Fitzsimon, the OA Chorus shone brilliantly throughout the opera. The many demands made of them were met with crystalline clarity and precision of delivery. They moved as accurately as they sang and made this an outstanding demonstration of artistic professionalism.

Opera Australia has been away from Melbourne for a long time but this visually stunning production marks a triumphant return. The audience was thrilled, the theatre was packed and the buzz was palpable throughout. This is what we’ve missed!

Gregory Pritchard



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