Aida (Opera North)
May 15 2019
Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham
Review: William Ruff
Sonic thrills abound in Verdi’s Technicolor opera
Verdi’s Aida is the opera which has it all – and more. Mighty empires are at war; lovers find themselves on opposite sides; there are hummable tunes aplenty – and there’s enough Cecil B DeMille spectacle to keep the eyes as busy as the ears. Opera buffs are known to travel far for productions which feature real camels, horses and elephants in the Triumphal March.
Not many opportunities for livestock in the RCH but what Opera North’s semi-staged production lacks in marching armies it more than makes up in musical thrills. The effect of orchestra + soloists + full-throated chorus + sets of magnificent long trumpets either side of the stage is to grab the audience from their seats and hurl them against the back wall. Well, that’s what it feels like anyway.
Opera North fields an A team of principals to take on Verdi’s uncompromising score. Alexandra Zabala is impressive as Aida, encompassing a huge emotional range as the princess turned slave-girl; Rafael Rojas may not be in the first flush of youth but his splendidly heroic voice makes that not matter one jot; Alessandra Volpe is a fiery, spiteful Amneris; Eric Greene is a commandingly dignified Amonasro whilst Petri Lindroos and Michael Druiett give dramatic weight to the roles of Ramfis and Egyptian King.
Costumes, props and furniture are present-day (mobile phones, office chair, khaki uniforms etc). There’s a tattered, singed projection screen above the stage on which are beamed disturbing images of war-ravaged middle eastern cities (and rather more obscure ones of hands and feet). Verdi never gives the impression that he is too bothered with reality in his opera, so I’m not convinced the images always avoid being distracting. What Verdi was obsessed by was the music – and in this respect conductor Sir Richard Armstrong and the musical forces he commands make this an Aida which pulsates with red-blooded emotion and thrills with sonic shock and awe.
The Orchestra and Chorus of Opera North conducted by Sir Richard Armstrong
Ramfis Petri Lindroos
Radames Rafael Rojas
Amneris Alessandra Volpe
Aida Alexandra Zabala
The King of Egypt Michael Druiett
A messenger Warren Gillespie
Aida’s mother Kathryn Stevens
Amonasro Eric Greene
Director Annabel Arden
Designer Joanna Parker
Video Design Dick Straker
Lighting Designer Richard Moore