Review By Alice Mooney
Opera Australia is back in full swing and Davide Livermore opens the new season with a glitzy presentation of Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida. It is said that Verdi composed the music for Aida in only four months, which is a staggering thought, given this opera’s flow and uniformity. The choral pieces are powerful, patriotic and upbeat balancing well against the more moving and emotional arias. For a little context, it’s interesting to know that Aida first premiered in Cairo in 1871 for which Verdi received significant praise and adulation. Adia is a love story, classically set against the backdrop of war in a tale of triumph and loyalty. Most classic operas demand of their directors, producers and choreographers, the arduous and sometimes impossible task of dusting off traditional cobwebs to carefully but masterfully re-create and re-define these pieces into a twenty-first century success. One of the first things I noticed about Aida is the focus on a bold and brave young woman as protagonist. Aida is an Ethiopian princess disguised as slave to the Pharoah’s daughter, Amneris. Amneris is betrothed to Radamès, the Egyptian military commander, whom is in love with Aida, and she him. A classic Montague Capulet story unfolds, as Aida and Amneris battle a war of love and duty at the forefront while in the backdrop, Radamès leads Egypt to victory against Aida’s home country.
This feels like Aida 2.0 for its digital media and video projection. It has an equal role to play in addition to the chorus, musicians and conductor. American soprano Leah Crocetto shines as Aida. While she is a newcomer to Opera Australia, she is no stranger to the role, having performed as Aida with Washington National Opera, Seattle Opera and again with the San Francisco opera. Her experience shows in her effortless performance and breathtaking arias. As Aida, she harnesses a lamenting agony for her duty to Amneris, her loyalty to her father and country, against her star-crossed heart for her love and enemy Radamès. Crocetto and Elena Gabouri are a great pair to watch as they are pitted against one another for Radamès love and loyalty. Gabouri, the French-Russian mezzo asserts Amneris’ authority well and treads artistically the fine line between jealousy and fear.
In a performance of such a grand scale with huge digital imagery, the cast are sometimes competing for focus against the busy backdrop. The video projection by digital content designer D-Wok is sharp, mesmerising and brings depth to the mood. It does not necessarily function to provide context of time or place, but instead works to elevate mood and feeling. While the luminous golden cobras and erotic feminine deities create a certain atmosphere, they didn’t marry up with the orchestral centrality of an opera. They reminded me of the fantasy and futuristic moving desktop backgrounds you could download for your newest PC in the early 2010’s. Listening to opera arias against this backdrop neither complimented the video, nor elevated the libretto. It was different, yes and refreshing. And I believe that it will bring mixed views, but I am also interested to know more about how these visual choices were made. If history is anything to go by, Aida does have a reputation for scale and grandeur, and D-Wok’s LED showcase will have made an impact.
Gianluca Falaschi’s costume design is inspired. The detailing and contrasts between Amneris and Aida work to contextualise their characters and their positions in relation to one another. The ensemble of dancers is sparsely clad allowing greater expression of the body to highlight Livermore’s choreography. There were however, some odd choreographic choices, where dancers appeared to be possessed as well as the not-so-successful ‘walk like an Egyptian’ gestures. However, for the most part they drew focus back to the ensemble with beautiful contemporary form and style. The dance numbers brought energy and vibrance to act I and II but were nowhere to be scene in the second half of the performance. Judging by the applause during curtain call they were a popular element.
Apart from some technical glitches with surtitles and some rather extensive transitions, opening night of Aida was thoroughly enjoyed by all. The very grateful and forgiving theatre crowd buzzed at the opportunity to once again fill the State theatre with an abundance of plastic flutes and mini binoculars in hand. Livermore and the cast of Aida, can be proud of their efforts in bringing to Melbourne such a bold and outlandish adaptation of a nineteenth century classic. LED projections were visually enthralling and gave the audience a new and enjoyable experience, and were definitely a sight to behold. This was a visually ambitious opera and a valuable addition to the modernising of the Verdi canon. Next stop… Enarni.