This highly elaborate production of Aida, originally designed in 1988 by Sonja Frisell and here revived by Gianni Quaranta, brings to Verdi's epic masterwork a visual sense of the splendour of Ancient Egypt – the floor-to-ceiling columns and multi-level staging create an arresting and effective backdrop to this story of intimate love and patriotic bellicosity. The beauty of this Met HD broadcast is that the camera work allows the online viewer to recognise the scale of the production and see it from angles which the seated audience could only have dreamed of (watch out in particular for “Gloria all'Egitto” in Act II); the close-ups of singers are sufficiently interspersed with panoramic views of the stage that the grandeur is not lost. 

This production may well at the time have been deemed “a safe enough bet” by the New York Times, but that statement belies the reasons for its popularity. Besides an appealing storyline and powerful music, the well-judged staging and costumery are cleverly brought together so that no one aspect of this production overpowers another. For those who enjoy opera for its theatricality as well as its music, there is plenty on offer in the meticulous attention to detail in Dada Saligeri's costume design, and evidence of considerable historical research in the artwork on the pieces of set. Alexei Ratmansky’s choreography for the Act II ballet crosses the boundaries of classical ballet and tribal dance, whilst the two impeccably behaved horses provide an additional “wow factor” to an already spectacular show.

The show is, of course, nothing without its cast of singers, who are here undeniably the opera's crowning glory. In the title role, the radiant Violeta Urmana combines moments of terrifying might with more delicate, emotionally gripping episodes, with some excellent acting on offer, too (and the gamut of all these in “Ciel! mio padre... Rivedrai le foreste imbalsamente”). The South African tenor Johan Botha's Radamès is the perfect vocal match for Urmana, displaying superior dynamic control and seeming at ease in the role. Dolora Zajick lends a particular gravitas to the singing, with a powerful mezzo voice – her lower range is mesmerisingly fruity – and she, too, comes across as comfortable and confident as jealous Amneris. Meanwhile, Carlo Guelfi brings out the cunning of his character, Amonasro, to great effect and with a splendidly rounded baritone, and Roberto Scandiuzzi makes for a convincingly commanding Ramfis. Stefan Kocán makes his Met debut in this production, and he does so assuredly.

On the opening night of this 2009 production, the conductor Daniele Gatti was booed for what was considered by some a lacklustre musical hold over that performance. However, it seems that he learned from what must have been a particularly galling experience after a 14-year absence from the Met, as reviews from performances later in the season were rather more generous, and justifiably so. There is certainly nothing to boo about here; whilst the musical drama is perhaps not quite on the level of the electrifying 2012 revival, it is certainly carefully considered, and the superb orchestral playing envelopes the emotional contours of this opera very finely indeed.