Sonja Frisell’s Aida is the production that refuses to die. Premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in 1988, it’s the same age as many of the principals, and it’s back for a surprise final run after the pandemic-related postponement of its replacement. Frisell’s production has everything you’d expect from the Met in the 80s: two badly-behaved horses! Gratuitous use of the stage elevator! Racially insensitive costumes! Gianni Quaranta’s sandstone sets are admittedly impressive but they’re not worth the two 45-minute intervals, drawing the evening out to a shocking four hours despite conductor Paolo Carignani’s attempts to keep the action moving.

Michelle Bradley (Aida)
© Ken Howard | Met Opera

The production certainly didn’t help the cast either, with singers often confined to the very front of the stage with no space to interact. In many ways, it felt like a return to the old “park-and-bark” days, particularly when tenor Brian Jagde planted himself downstage centre as Radamès and bellowed out one high note after the next. It’s an undoubtedly thrilling voice, big and muscular, riding the ensembles with enviable ease. He also fully looked the part of the commanding warrior, despite being saddled with an unfortunate leather skirt. But his blunt approach to the role grew tiresome after a while, lacking the musical or dramatic nuance to make something interesting of the role.

Brian Jagde (Radamès) and Michelle Bradley (Aida)
© Ken Howard | Met Opera

Much the same could be said for Michelle Bradley’s Aida. When I last saw this production, I made note of the High Priestess who displayed an uncommon vocal glamour even from offstage. Five years later she’s graduated to the title role, taking over nearly the entire run from an indisposed Latonia Moore. Bradley’s voice is more than ready for the part – it’s a full spinto, velvety and rich with enough metal to cut through the ensembles. She can float high pianissimi as easily as she displays a plummy chest voice – in short, everything one could want from an Aida. But her interpretation was frustratingly inconsistent, one phrase gorgeously spun, the next bumpy and ragged. It’s undoubtedly a major voice though, one that could easily become one of the great Verdians of our time.

Christian Van Horn (Ramfis), Olesya Petrova (Amneris), Brian Jagde (Radamès) and Michelle Bradley
© Ken Howard | Met Opera

She was at her best opposite Quinn Kelsey’s Amonasro, both unfurling long legato lines in their Act 3 duet. Kelsey is a true Verdi baritone, filling the Met with waves of burnished tone – it’s a thrill to hear him start the Act 2 concertato finale with such a gorgeous sound. He’s also a natural stage animal, carrying himself with anguished nobility even in his fiercest moments of anger. While Christian Van Horn sounded uncommonly muted as Ramfis, Alexandros Stavrakakis impressed in the smaller role of the King, and Brittany Olivia Logan’s formidable High Priestess hinted at Aidas to come.

Anita Rachvelishvili (Amneris)
© Marty Sohl | Met Opera (2018)

But it was Anita Rachvelishvili we were all here to see, back onstage after a string of cancellations. She’s been admirably open about her struggles rebuilding her support following a difficult birth, and one could occasionally see the strain in her upper register. But the voice itself remains undimmed, refulgent and imposing. She’s also gained new depth in her lower register, which booms out like an organ, and she draws upon a dazzling array of colours to portray the complexity of the jealous princess. Pinched high notes aside, she’s at her very best in the Judgement Scene, roaring with wounded majesty. But even her magnetic stage presence isn’t enough to rescue the final tableau, flapping her pleated satin wings as Aida and Radamès slowly sink beneath the stage. It’s time for this production to be buried along with them.