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Review: Aida at Sydney Opera House

Review by Olivia Ruggiero


Opera Australia’s ‘Aida’ is a triumphant and glorious work of art that perfectly reflects Verdi’s opulent score. Walking into the Joan Sutherland Theatre on a frosty June evening you are greeted by monolithic stone-like pillars etched with hieroglyphics and a vast blackness that swallows the rest of the stage, perhaps reminiscent of the airless tomb that will seal the fate of Radames and Aida.


Najmiddin Mavlyanov enraptures the audience within the first 15 minutes with his pure and crystal-clear rendition of Celeste Aida. The technical precision of Mavlyanov is to be commended and his well-placed voice rings to fill the acoustically brilliant opera house. A luscious and rich voice that is both free and enthralling. More so, he is incredibly charming – a Radames you wholeheartedly want to fall in love with. It’s a role for an experienced tenor and my goodness – what a tenor voice.


This glorious tenor is accompanied by the Opera Australia Orchestra under the baton of Stuart Stratford, who are able to show off all of their wonderful colours with this magnificent score. From brassy triumphal marches to subtle and delicate melodies, with soaring love duets and passionate arias – the Opera Australia Orchestra is truly at the top of their game and last night they had no qualms in showing that.


The digital sets by Gio Forma add something quite majestic to the show even if at times they don’t quite work in the context of this production. Radames’ trial is brilliantly executed as the sets seem to dissolve into a flowing river of red as stark LED’s cast harsh light on his fate. The way the digitalization achieves a piercing white light at the very end of the opera, encasing Radames and Aida only in shadow is also a brilliant use of the modern technology that could otherwise seem out of place in a show so clearly set in the ancient world. The scene that accompanies the famous Verdi triumphal march must be the crowning jewel in this production of Aida as we see a horseman encased in golden Egyptian garments riding towards us at a vicious speed – it perfectly reflects the genius of Verdi’s tune. There are moments where the digitalization does feel misplaced – during the Celeste Aida we see a woman (clearly representative of Aida) who looks nothing like Leah Crocetto in this production. It feels a bit jarring and perhaps unnecessary as these sets are so versatile and could achieve so much more, and do at various points in the opera.


The costume design is exemplary. With thematic colours and subtle ways of linking relationships within the show. Aida’s lack of Egyptian headwear separates her from Amneris and her devotees, whilst her colour scheme links in with that of Radames and her father Amonasro. The Ethiopians are dressed in peasant-like clothes with drab colours, whilst the Egyptians are adorned in gold, silver and jeweled garments. The soldiers wear individually designed helmets (that can’t be comfortable but look fabulous!) and the King is clad in armour which is the perfect contrast to the plain and drab clothing of the Ethopian King (Amonasro).


We are introduced to our Amneris at the start of the show as she emerges from the shadows, the light that illuminates her path seems to emanate from her as she grieves the death of Radames and her hand in his fate. It is the first moment of the show and the initial indication that Elena Gabouri is going to breathe fresh life into this role in the most splendid way possible. Her voice is (quite literally in this show) to die for. It’s thick, it’s booming, its focused, it’s everything you could possibly dream of in a mezzo-soprano. She is a multi-faceted, sharp-tongued, technically perfect, Amneris, who takes us on the journey of this character. The maturity she brings to the role is second to none and could not be emulated. She understands the complexity of Amneris’ nature, we see her grow, find sympathy, remorse and begin to understand her deep love for Radames in Act 3. She is a force and a treat to watch. She is matched equally with the skill of Leah Crocetto whose voice is a total contrast to Gabouri’s and yet stands on its own, perfect in her own right. She is beautiful and effervescent in this role. The purity of her soprano is second to none and she embodies what a leading lady of opera should be in both voice and acting. Her rendition of O, Patria mia was soul-stirringly good. Her pianissimo’s pinged right to the very edges of the Joan Sutherland theatre and her tone embraced you like a warm hug. There’s not much to say about Crocetto’s performance other than that it was flawless and you should definitely buy a ticket just to see it. It’s a big sing for both females and they tackled their roles with grace – they night belonged to the two sopranos, both individually and complimentary of one another. The casting is perfect – Amneris and Aida in such vivid contrast of one another, they cannot be more different and yet there is a harmony that they find within each other – a commonality that eases the juxtaposition we as audience feel initially. It’s brilliant.


The Opera Australia Chorus, as always deserves their own mention. It’s wonderful to hear them have so much content to work with. They are a highlight of this opera and it’s a privilege to watch them work.


Aida is a story about love, trust and growth – an opera and a tale that has stood the test of time. It is eternal (for a reason) and needs not be altered – for this story is perfect and poignant the way it is. A tale that needs opulence, brilliant understanding of its complexity and maturity and an experienced hand to lead it. There can be no expense spared on a production of Aida and Opera Australia has proven that, with its grandiose sets, costumes and the best voices to bring this tale to life. It’s universal and will leave you content. This production of Aida by Opera Australia is visually and vocally stunning with a cast second to none. If you’re going to see Aida this year, or any opera, this is not the production you want to miss!

Image Credit: Keith Saunders


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