Posts Tagged ‘Micaela Carosi’

Aida, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, March 2011

12 March, 2011

Exiles and refugees in the modern world can take their gods with them, but it was not always so. This production places the action in a very distant past, and when Roberto Alagna as Radames sings in Act III that Aida is demanding he abandon his homeland, and therefore his gods too (Abbandonar la patria, l’are de’ nostri dei!), it was a riveting moment.

Radames being smeared with blood, all images Bill Cooper

In my review last year when David McVicar’s new production was first performed, I was very positive about the fact that it was set in an ancient civilization having nothing particularly Egyptian about it. I appreciated its raw energy, with the stylized masculine combat, human sacrifice, and female sexuality, and this was all very welcome. On a second viewing I found things to criticise that may or may not have been present a year ago. When Aida enters along with other slave women beholden to the princess Amneris, all except Aida hang their heads and droop their bodies in a way that would be more likely to irritate than please a princess, and if Amneris likes to see around her women who are cowed into abject submission, then why does she tolerate Aida being so vastly different? The poses of the ballet dancers as warriors seemed a bit overdone, and the lesbian choreography for the women was dull. When the Ethiopian prisoners are brought on stage, the guards’ over-aggressive poses seemed to indicate a lack of confidence on their part. But these complaints are mostly to do with the movement on stage, and are not necessarily intrinsic to the production.

Michael Volle as Amonasro

The singing and conducting are the main things, of course, and Olga Borodina as Amneris showed enormous gravitas, singing with huge lyrical power. For me she was the star of the show, though I also found Michael Volle terrific both vocally and in terms of his stage presence as Amonasro, king of the Ethiopians and father of Aida. At the dress rehearsal, Roberto Alagna gained ground as the opera progressed, eventually carrying off the role of Radames with utter conviction. Brindley Sherratt gave a powerful presence to the King of Egypt, and I rather like the fact that this production portrays him as blind, or at any rate partially sighted, led round by a slave boy. Vitalij Kowaljov sang strongly as Ramfis the high priest, and in the dress rehearsal that I attended, Micaela Carosi reprised her role of Aida from one year ago, but despite some lovely quiet passages I felt she was too exposed on the high notes, with pitch problems in the loud passages. I gather she was replaced on the first night by Ukrainian soprano, Liudmyla Monastyrska, who is due to sing Lady Macbeth in May, opposite Simon Keenlyside.

Conducting by Fabio Luisi was effective, and I loved the off-stage trumpets in the balcony. They played with such power and clarity it was a thrill to hear them.

Kowaljow as High Priest, and Borodina as Amneris

Performances, albeit with various cast changes, continue until April 15. For example, Alagna is replaced by Carlo Ventre after the first three performances, and there are extensive changes in the last three performances, with Brindley Sherratt switching from King of Egypt to Ramfis the high priest — for more details click here.

Aida, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, April 2010

28 April, 2010

If you yearn for an Aida with rich Egyptian tapestry, animals, jugglers, and massive processions, this is not for you, and that may be why several audience members booed the production team at the end. But if you want the drama Verdi and his librettist created then this performance certainly gave it. David McVicar’s fine new production strips away the Egyptian baggage and places events in an ancient time of masculine combat, female sexual energy, and human sacrifice. Verdi had been pestered for an opera for the new opera house in Cairo, hence the Egyptian setting, but apart from using a conflict between Egypt and Ethiopia as a background to the libretto, there is nothing particularly Egyptian about this story. It’s a drama about love, loyalty, jealousy and power in an ancient martial setting, and this production is reminiscent in some ways of the warrior culture in ancient Japan. The director is anxious it not be thought of as Egypt, and by stripping away that backcloth, he gives us a more abstract interpretation devoid of sentimental attachment to any particular time or place.

Act II, scene 2, Royal Opera photo Bill Cooper

Perhaps the people who booed objected to the lesbian orgy, or the intercourse between ten women and one man, or the ritual murder of men by women who have just embraced them. Any one of these things may seem over the top, but they fit the visceral energy of this production, whose integrity allows the singers to give their utmost.

All the principals sang strongly:  Micaela Carosi as Aida, Marco Vratogna as her father Amonasro, and Giacomo Prestia as Ramfis the high priest, but three performances were outstanding. Robert Lloyd came over extremely well in the minor part of the king, and Marianne Cornetti gave a rip-roaring portrayal of his daughter Amneris, dominating the stage with her voice and her presence. It was a memorable performance, as was that of Marcelo Alvarez as Radames, the military leader who loves Aida but is loved by the jealous Amneris. He sang so naturally, with effortless power and lyricism, it felt as if he were simply talking — what an extraordinary ability. This was the first night, so there are further performances if you can get tickets, but when the Royal Opera revives this production in less than a year’s time, Marcelo Alvarez will be a hard act to follow.

His first serious aria, which sweeps into the well-known Celeste Aida, appears very early in the opera, so it’s not easy to pull off well, but he started calmly and built up with terrific effect. He was helped by Jean-Marc Puissant’s designs, which left him entirely alone on stage in front of a large screen. The screen has a rotating base that can be turned to introduce or exclude other performers, or it can simply be lifted out of the way, and the effect is to create a space that might be intimate at one moment or open to a large crowd of performers at others. There were roughly 150 performers in total, so plenty of work for the wardrobe department, and I loved the costumes by Moritz Junge. Likewise the relatively dark lighting by Jennifer Tipton, and I liked the way Aida was portrayed more as a princess than a mere slave to Amneris.

Production aside, the opera would be nothing without its music, and Nicola Luisotti did a superb job with the orchestra. Their playing was well matched with what was happening on stage, and just to take one example, the cellos sang with enormous suppressed energy in Act III as the priests, dressed in greyish beige robes with enormous grey headdresses, paraded slowly across the stage. It’s just a small vignette, but there are many more such things, all very carefully thought out. With a production of such integrity, along with excellent singing and superb musicianship from the orchestra pit, this is arguably the finest Aida I’ve seen.

Performances continue until May 16.