Whenever I get the chance to go to the movies, I usually opt for indie flicks or foreign films. But, every once in awhile, I enjoy a big Hollywood blockbuster. (I mean, who doesn't?) Same goes for the opera, where, after taking in the Met's production of The Death of Klinghoffer (twice), I wanted to see something a bit...bigger. As in: Verdi's Aida, which somehow I'd never managed to see before this past Wednesday evening.
One of the staples of the Met repertory, this was the 1,138th Met performance of this warhorse, which Verdi wrote in 1871 for the then-new Khedival Opera House in Cairo. Set in Ancient Egypt, the opera tells the story of a love triangle between Amneris, the Crown Princess of Egypt, her Ethiopian slave, Aida, and the military commander Radamès, who is in love with Aida. Unfortunately, Amneris is also in love with Radamès, and when the Pharaoh asks Radamès to take up arms against the Ethiopian army - well, let's just say things gets messy.
There is nothing subtle about Aida. In addition to massive choruses, numerous ballets, and a cast of what seems like thousands, the opera has six key roles, each with its own unique set of demands. Chief among those is the title character, sung here by the Ukranian soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska, who made her Met debut in this role in 2012. Monastyrska, who performs this season at the Vienna State Opera, Covent Garden, and the Staatsoper Berlin, among other houses, sang with both fearsome intensity and heartrending tenderness.
Mezzo-soprano Olga Borodina was imperious and volatile as Amneris, her astonishingly powerful voice penetrating the vast Met auditorium. Tenor Marcello Giordani sang with the confidence and passion one would of expect of a veteran Radamès, his high notes ringing out with impressive force and clarity. And, baritone Zeljko Lucic brought a dark, brooding intensity to the role of Aida's father Amonasro, who also happens to be the King of Ethiopia.
Perhaps most impressive were the two basses in the cast. As the high priest Ramfis, Dmitry Belosselskiy had a mysterious, almost menacing power. And, in his Met debut, Soloman Howard exuded gravitas and authority as the King of Egypt.
Even though I'm not a particular fan of Verdi's bombastic, brass-heavy music, I couldn't help but be impressed by Marco Armiliato, who led the stellar Met Orchestra with the crisp vitality of someone who knows this music like the back of their hand. Now in his 14th season at the Met, Armiliato has firmly established himself as one of the company's core conductors - not to mention a possible heir-apparent to Met Music Director James Levine.
Sonja Frisell's production is now more than a quarter-century old and, like the ancient Egyptian temples and palaces in which it's set, seems to be fading a bit around the edges. Still, it was hard not to be overwhelmed by the sight of hundreds of supernumeraries parading across the Met stage during the Triumphal March, with Pharaonic statues and hieroglyphic-embossed pillars towering overhead. And, just when I thought I'd seen everything, out came not one, but two pairs of quarter-horses. If spectacle's your thing, Aida delivers the goods.There are ten more performances of Aida at the Met this season; more info on tickets and future casts here. More pics on the photo page.