Aida: Tragic love story is operatic triumph – an opera review by Victor Grynberg

June 24, 2021 by Victor Grynberg
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Re-staged in Sydney for the first time since its amazing success in 2018 this digital backgrounded production of Giuseppe Verdi’s blockbuster reached even greater heights this season.

 

Elena Gabouri as Amneris and Daniel Sumegi as Ramfis in Opera Australia’s 2021 production of Aida at the Sydney Opera House.       Photo Credit Prudence Upton

Why? Opera after all is a drama set to music with the lead performers required to sing as well as act.

This 2021 version has as fine an ensemble of lead singers as I have heard in many years.

The background to this opera is almost an opera in itself.

Giuseppe Verdi came from a poor family in Busseto, Italy and developed an early interest in music, playing the nearby church organ on Sundays while still in his early teens and wrote his first opera when only 26.

He soon became the doyen of Italian opera, following the footsteps of Donizetti and Bellini, writing hit after hit.

Meanwhile in Egypt, the Ottoman supported ruler Ismail Pasha, with the title of Khedive (Viceroy) wanted to commemorate the opening of a new Opera House in Cairo. So he turned to Verdi and offered him a commission to write an Egyptian-themed opera.

Myth mistakenly is that the commission, which Verdi received in 1869 was for the opening that year of the Suez canal.

Famed French librettist Camille du Locle heard about the commission and suggested a story by Egyptologist August Mariette Bey based on a historical forbidden love that was first discovered written on papyrus a few thousand years before. The Egyptian leader Radames, desperately in love with a Nubian Princess Aida. A forbidden love.

Du Locle and Bey both wanted the libretto to be in French but Verdi, soured by an unhappy experience with Paris Opera hired an Italian writer  Antonio Ghislanzoni to translate this into his native tongue.

Premiering in Cairo in 1871 it made its Milan debut with La Scala in early 1872, with Verdi receiving no less than 32 curtain calls at its conclusion. Thus a global phenomenon was born.

So it’s only appropriate that this new production, with 10 mega TV screens each 7 metres high and 2 metres wide, is a co-production by La Scala and Opera Australia.

Directed by renowned opera director and creator Davide Livermore, these screens, with slithering snakes, a black panther, fierce cloud and water scenes brilliantly replaces the elephants, camels and more that have been used over the years in outdoor productions.

The opera requires a huge company and considering that Opera Australia relies mainly on box office income to fund its productions it is a tribute to Artistic Director Lyndon Terracini that he has been able to tick every single box to make the performance so flawless.

The Cast of Aida in Opera Australia’s 2021 production of Aida at the Sydney Opera House.
Photo Credit Prudence Upton

Fresh from her successful Opera Australia debut in this role in Melbourne, American soprano Leah Crocetto soars as Aida. An astonishing voice, that overcomes radiantly the challenges the arias have for her. Hopefully, we will hear her many more times in the coming years.

As her rival in love, the Princess Amneris is sung by Russian born mezzo Elena Gaboury who is a French resident. This role has almost become her trademark and as good as Miss Crocetto is, she isn’t left behind.

Appropriately it’s an Italian tenor Stefano La Colla in the role of Radames, now the successful military leader who could have the hand of the Princess in marriage as a reward for his victories over what in the script is called the Ethiopians.

But it’s Aida he truly loves and he is utterly convincing in his role. A beautiful voice, exquisite arias and love duets, and especially that final scene where he and Aida are condemned to an awful death.

Victor Grynberg

Only a few months ago we were able to hear the magnificent baritone voice of Sydney born Daniel Sumegi starring in Bluebeard’s Castle. Now we have the pleasure of having Sumegi reprise the first role he ever sang for OA, 26 years ago as Ramfis, the High Priest.

With tremendous depth to his rich voice and great physical stature, it’s no surprise that Sumegi is so wanted in his current home New York.

Not many operas call for three outstanding bass voices, but in Aida, we had the pleasure of two very popular local basses to complement Sumegi.

Warwick Fyfe, as the captured Ethiopian King Amonasro, Aida’s father and  Russian-born Jew Gennady Dubinsky in a metal mask as The Egyptian King are wonderful vocal matches.

Ballet is quite important in many operas, but none more so than in Aida. The 10 female dancers feature in many scenes and they bring much pleasure with their impeccable rhythmic coordination.

A large chorus, at times, almost overcrowding the limited stage of the Joan Sutherland Theatre, add to the strength of this production.,

Full marks to Chorus Master Paul Fitzsimon for his excellent troupe.

Finally, where would we be without a great orchestra? Opera Australia imported Italian Lorenzo Passerini to conduct our local musicians. His enthusiasm and control were clearly on display as our much-improved orchestra did full justice to the superb score.

The enthusiastic first-night audience showed their great appreciation for a world-class production of one of the greatest operas ever written.

Bravo Verdi.

Bravo OA

Aida

Joan Sutherland Theatre

Sydney Opera House

June 22nd 2021

Five stars

Comments

One Response to “Aida: Tragic love story is operatic triumph – an opera review by Victor Grynberg”
  1. Deb Meyer says:

    Fabulous review Victor! I’m looking forward to seeing it.

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