The Metropolitan Opera’s now 29-year old production of Aida is still standing and still looking good. Gianni Quaranta’s gigantic sets – floor-to-sky-statuary, regal-looking staircases, a couple of horses, wise/exciting use of the stage elevator to change scenes (causing, unfortunately, a glitch the other night which delayed the final scene for a few minutes), costumes (by Dada Saligeri) mostly of white and gold, save for the occasional lapis or green for Amneris’s boudoir or Aida’s third act gown, all add up to a fine, visual experience – the type one wants in a performance of Aida. The direction of Sonja Frisell’s production, now by Stephen Pickover, disappoints. Granted, there’s not much one can do with Aida – it’s an opera that presents itself without nuance – but the standing still and singing out can get tiring, and Amneris circling Aida is not really drama. The Act 3 seduction goes by without the principals touching. Very odd.
Of the three sopranos singing the title role this season, Latonia Moore is the warmest, Liudmyla Monastyrska is the loudest, and Krassimira Stoyanova, new to the role at the Met, is, hands down, the finest. A handsome woman and scrupulous musician, one wishes the voice were a bit bigger (or the Met a bit smaller), but the sound has both grandeur and beauty, and she shades phrases and obeys dynamic marking. The pitch perfect high C in “O patria mia” was not quite pianissimo, but elsewhere, the high, spun phrases were glorious and her dips into chest voice were dramatically effective.
Opposite her was the all-purpose tenor of Jorge de Léon in his debut role as Radamès. His voice is big and bright and even from top to bottom, but his tone never varies and everything is sung at forte. Where Ms Stoyanova was sensitive, Mr de Léon was trumpet-like. His is an awkward stage presence as well – perhaps real direction would help – but nobody will deny that he was an exciting part of the show.
Violetta Urmana as Amneris proved troublesome. Her odd career – switching from soprano to mezzo and back – has left her voice almost intact and strong from top to bottom, but much of it sounds effortful. Still, Amneris’ Judgment Scene is the true test, and Ms Urmana came out a winner, hurling big sounds into the auditorium. Amonasro was sung by George Gagnidze, costumed badly, but singing with force. His acting was as rudimentary as everyone else’s. A note: neither he nor Stoyanova’s Aida featured dark-tinted skin. Those days are over.
James Morris, now in his 46th season at the Met, still has the stature and big tone for Ramfis and it’s always nice to come across Morris Robinson, who sang the King’s music with majesty. Jennifer Johnson Cano’s Priestess was lovely.
Conductor Daniele Rustioni got great playing and singing from the Orchestra and Chorus and kept the big ensembles perfectly in order. Where he failed was in the intimate moments – a bit too fast, a bit too loud, more than a bit insensitive. But Aida demands, well, bigness, and the not-full-house appreciated what they heard. And Stoyanova’s Aida is the finest heard here for years.
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