Sunday, 11 November 2007

Aida - ENO at the Colesium

Aida by Verdi
ENO at the Coliseum: 9 November – 7 December

Director: Jo Davies

Conductor: Edward Gardner

Reviewed By Crystal Alonsi

Jo Davis is to be congratulated on directing a vibrant, eye catching, imaginative production of this Aida, however I do not think that this performance attains greatness. The majesty, pomp, brutality and agonised sorrow that lie at the heart of this piece was strangely lacking.

Zandra Rhodes’s costumes were magnificent, individualized even in crowd scenes: from lapis lazuli, through the full range of turquoise from blue to green, peacock hues, contrasted with orange, terracotta, tangerine shot through with gold. Amongst these Aida’s (ClaireRutter) was strangely muted. When the lighting on her was subdued she had the disconcerting tendency of virtually disappearing, whilst still on stage, with only the odd glint or so of gold giving a clue as to her whereabouts. The peasant outfits in the very effective muted tones contrasted well with the main characters. There were several good performances amongst the crowd on a very cramped stage. Some Egyptian guards did look rather lumpish and out of their depth. I would not be surprised to hear that they were on work experience having ticked “Security work” on their placement forms.

The ‘elephant’ for the triumphal procession was formed by some of the cast with cleverly controlled head, trunk and tusks, unfortunately the ears were so huge and flappy that they obscured the conquering hero. In my part of the opera house a faint giggle rippled through the audience and Dumbo’s name was softly murmured. This was rather a bathetic arrival for Radames and surely unintentional. The parade included some energetic and accomplished dancers and acrobats who twirled, whirled and stamped with enthusiasm and skill. Aida’s captured people looked a suitable contrast to the polished and highly organized Egyptians.

Act 3 opens to reveal cartoon like trees and sketchy pyramids and a pair of Egyptian eyes on the backcloth which seemed at odds with the imposing staircase with its dramatic lighting on the left hand side of the stage. This dichotomy demonstrated the uneasiness that was present all the way through the performance: was ‘Aida’ being treated as a pantomime with spectacle and roughly sketched comic book characters or as tragedy with complicated people faced with agonizing choices and dilemmas, including unrequited love, consuming jealousy, war and massacre, slavery and hearts torn by divided loyalties? When Amonasro (Ian Paterson) suddenly emerges from behind a tree the d
rama did descend to a farcical level. Far from having the bearing and demeanor of a king, albeit a defeated one, he looked like the understudy in a low budget production of Robinson Crusoe.

Aida’s acting ability was somewhat limited however her singing ameliorated this. Radames also possessed a voice far richer and varied than his physical performance. The scenes with both Aida and Radames were stilted and awkward, there seemed to be no chemistry between them let alone a consuming passion worth dying for. Pharaoh (Gwynne Howell) owellHowgave a relaxed performance, his honeyed tones sounding very assured. Amneris (Jane Dutton) struggled in what is a rather a Bette Davis part although aided by some gorgeous costumes she was clearly hampered by her ugly and unwieldy headgear. Ramfis (Brindley Sherratt) had the best voice of all; caramel tones resonant and confident.

The orchestra gave a great performance under the superb conducting of Edward Gardner. They gave a masterful and coherent rendering of the score supporting the singers and creating much of the drama. The fanfare during the triumphal parade with its familiar and well-loved tune was executed crisply and dramatically and heightened the experience of the spectacle.

The final scene included the device of an open cage, rather suggestive of a dumb waiter slowly wafting Radames from on high down to the stage. This was hardly a dramatic flinging of an enemy of the state to their final doom. While he was singing of death and despair this strange contraption gently wobbled upwards and finally disappeared. It was a curious and unhelpful device at this point in the performance, totally out of keeping with the final awfulness of death and separation that the music conveyed. It undermined the already curiously unconvincing duet between the two main characters culminating in the unnoteworthy death of Aida.

So should you go or not? If you can get a ticket, and they are nearly all sold, you will certainly enjoy yourself. Will you experience a great and influential performance? Not really, but you will have a good evening out enhanced by many interesting effects and several satisfying performances.

Photos by Tristram Kenton top: Jane Rutter (Aida) & Iain Patterson (Amonasio) Bottom: Aida & Radames (John Hudson)

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