Reviewed by Ann Durrell
Aida is the latest in Opera North’s strand of large-scale works presented in concert staging and The Bridgwater Hall is a simply stunning venue for the performance. Sir Richard Armstrong, one of the most distinguished opera conductors returns for his third project and has worked with Annabel Arden Directing and Joanna Parker as Designer.
Verdi’s Aida is an opera in four parts set in the Old Kingdom of Egypt. Aida is an Ethiopian princess enslaved by the Egyptians. Radamès, is Captain of the Egyptian army harbouring a secret love for the enslaved princess, unbeknown to him at first these feelings are reciprocated. However, as with most operas the course of true love rarely runs smooth and the King of Egypt’s daughter Amneris is in love with the hero and is willing to do pretty much anything to ensure he is betrothed to her regardless of the fact he does not feel the same. To complicated things further with Egypt and Ethiopia at war Aida and Radamès are torn between their love for each other and their loyalty to their countries.
In this parred down performance, all of the production we have become used to from Opera North is gone, and we are left with the beauty of the artists with the backing of The Chorus of Opera North and their Orchestra. The Bridgewater Hall is an excellent venue, apart from the outstanding acoustics the staging works perfectly. The orchestra fill the space on the stage, to the front is a minimal set. The chorus were elevated behind in the choir circle seating giving the audience a perfect view of the entire cast. During the Triumphal March the traditional ceremonial trumpets took up a spot in the choir circle adding brilliantly to the overall effect.
My only complaint on the staging would be the addition of the hanging cloth over the staging on which images are projected throughout. I understand these may be scene setting but at times they were just distracting. I have found that Opera North’s use of projection for me over the last couple of years is overused and I really wish they would pull it back.
Aida is set in Ancient Egypt; Opera North have opted for a more modern costume for the cast. Aida, her father King of Ethiopia and Radamès are in present day army wear. Amneris is kitted out in luxurious silk sunglasses and handbags, giving the character the air of a spoilt princess accustomed to getting her own way. The King of Egypt and his priest are suited and booted, giving the guise of ruthless businessmen. The costume design has certainly worked well to enhance the production.
Aida is full of demanding arias, Radames’ opening “Celeste Aida” is notoriously so. Rafel Rojas in the role delivers even the toughest parts with ease. Throughout the entire performance he excels in the role demonstrating why he is a stalwart of the company.
The prayer to Phta sung by the High Priestess – Lorna James – with the backing of The Chorus of Opera North is simply haunting and so full of emotion. Alessandra Volpe not only delivers vocally as Amneris, she also acts well to characterise the role to perfection. At first you dislike her for sheer brattyness but end up sympathising that her actions eventually lead to the end of her love. Eric Greene gives an impressive performance as Amonasro, his Baritone is smooth and full. The chief priest Ramfis is sung by Petri Lindoos, he exudes villainy with his deep bass filling the concert hall.
Aida is sung by Alexandra Zabala with great emotion, notably so in “O patria mia” where you feel her yearning through the song for her homeland with its “green hills and perfumed shores”. The final duet between Radamès and Aida of “O terra addio”, entrapped in a tomb sealing the fate of their forbidden love with death.
Opera North’s Aida is simply beautiful and one you just cannot afford to miss.
Opera North are currently on tour with Aida, for more information and tour dates visit www.operanorth.co.uk.
For other shows at The Bridgewater Hall in Manchester visit www.bridgewater-hall.co.uk or call the box office on 0161 907 9000.
The Bridgewater Hall, Lower Mosley Street, Manchester, M2 3WS | 0161 907 9000