Aïda is really getting a run lately. The Dallas Opera mounted an impressive production as the season opener. You can read my review here. The Tulsa Opera will also present this grandest of grand operas in April of 2013. The Metropolitan Opera frequently trots out this surefire box office mega-hit and this season, it is part of their Live at the Met HD broadcast series. Seen on Dec. 15 for this review, it was a mixed bag and an oddly listless performance. You can judge for yourself when there is an encore performance in many local theaters on Wednesday, Jan. 16 at 6:30 p.m. (a list of local theaters where it shows is at the end of this review).
As Aida, Ukrainian soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska sang the role beautifully. Her rich spinto soprano voice is capable of great range of color and dynamics. Although it is impossible to discern how she would have sounded in the opera house (since the HD broadcast is recorded with microphones right on the stage), she sounded like it was clear sailing over the chorus and orchestra with ease. She was also able to float incredibly soft and perfectly placed spinning sounds, which is a requirement for the role. It may be that she was more effective as an actor in the opera house as well, but on the screen she was wooden and uninvolved.
Olga Borodina was much better as the pharaoh's daughter Amneris—in all respects. Vocally, she is a powerhouse; able to sing the highest notes with muscle and she popped out some almost bartitoneish low notes. Almost more importantly, she created a complex character out of a role that is all too often sung as a caricature of the spoiled brat who is used to getting everything she wants. This was a love triangle that she intended to win.
Borodina actively did battle with Aida for the affection of the war hero Radamès, portrayed with a boyish innocence by the handsome tenor Roberto Alagna. She shot Aida a couple of daggered glances that would have frozen a five-alarm fire and she turned on all the charm in the world around Radamès. True, she caused his downfall in a moment of jealous weakness by exposing his tryst, with Aida and her father Amonasro, King of Ethiopia (imposingly portrayed by George Gagnidze), where he treasonously gives away the Egyptian battle plans. However, her grief at his trial and death sentence is so real that you tearfully forgive her, even if she can't forgive herself.
While the set, costumes and stage decorations are imposing, and there are over 200 actors and three horses onstage in the justly famous triumphal march, the stage direction and the acting was completely absent other that "you stand here and you stand there." Those with some acting chops, like Borodina and Gagnidze (who was constantly popping his eyes wide open in a most disconcerting manner) created their characters out of their imaginations and, presumably, bits left over from other productions.
The worst non-moment was the final duet. Radamès is condemned to die by being sealed in his tomb alive. Aida sneaks in to share her lover's fate. And there they stood, eight feet or more apart for most of the duet. There was no impassioned greeting, not even a handshake. Finally, they managed to get into a very awkward Jeanette McDonald/Nelson Eddy pose for the final notes, but they didn't even sit down, or hug, let alone embrace and kiss. Of course, that had been typical of their very chilly romance for the entire show. You never believed that they were in love. The more energetic Alagna indicated some affection for Aida, but Monastyrska was frozen all afternoon, just walking through the role exactly as her blocking told her. She never went somewhere because it was natural; she went because the director told her to take three steps stage right on this note.
It was a far different story when Latonia Moore sang the role in Dallas. This was a woman who made it worth giving up your country and your life if need be. Last March, she was the understudy in this production at the Met and, in a big surprise, got to go on for the radio broadcast performance. It was a "star is born" moment as she made international headlines filled with superlatives. You can read my interview with her here, where she tells all about it.
Alagna also made international headlines of a different kind in this opera in 2006. The scene was Teatro Alla Scala in Milan, one of the world's great opera houses. The tenor usually sings lighter roles, such as Romeo and Nemorino, and had received mixed reviews in previous performances of the run. For the Sunday evening performance, the booing started as he made his first entrance and continued all the way through his opening aria, "Celeste Aida." He supposedly gave what Daniel Wakin of the New York Times called a "military salute" (maybe with one finger raised) and stalked off the stage. He refused to go back on and his understudy finished the performance, and was barred from future performances by the opera house. He still may be.
No one booed him in the movie theater on Saturday. He sings this heroic role his way, with a lovely lyric tenor and, unlike all of the spaghetti tenors that sing the role, actually observed the dynamics. The last high note of the "Celeste Aida" was hushed and floated as beautifully as any Monastyrska produced. Of course, it is impossible to tell how he sounded in the house, but it was just beautiful in the Cinemark.
In general, Aïda doesn't work all that well in the filmed format. The production was meant to be seen in its full stage-filling entirety. The set is gigantic and uses all seven of the Met's rotating stages and fills 17 tractor-trailer trucks when it travels. Here, the roving camera shrunk the stage as it gave close up after close up. In fact, even when it pulled back as far as it could, you never really saw the entire stage. Besides, the closer you saw Monastyrska, the less effective she was. That blank stare probably didn't read in the opera house.
Here's a video preview:
Aida repeats at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 16 at the following North Texas theaters:
Dallas County and East
- AMC Northpark 15 (Dallas)
- Cinemark 14 Cedar Hill
- Cinemark 17 with IMAX (Dallas)
- Cinemark 12 Rockwall
- Galaxy Theatre (Dallas)
Tarrant County and West
- AMC Parks at Arlington 18
- AMC Palace 9 (Fort Worth)
- Cinemark Tinseltown 17 (Grapevine)
- Cinemark 12 Town Center (Mansfield)
- Hollywood Movies 14 (Burleson)Regal Fossil Creek (Fort Worth)
- Hulen Movie Tavern (Fort Worth)
- Rave North East Mall (Hurst)
- Rave Ridgmar 13 (Fort Worth)
Collin / Denton Counties and North
- Cinemark Allen 16
- Cinemark 14 Denton
- Cinemark Frisco
- Cinemark Vista Ridge Mall (Lewisville)
- Cinemark West Plano with XD
- Cinemark 24 (The Legacy) with XD (Plano)
- Cinemark 14 Wichita Falls