Verdi’s Aida is widely hailed to be one of the grandest operas ever written. Set in Egypt, with Egypt and Ethiopia at war, the opera tells a tale of an acrimonious love triangle involving the Pharaoh’s daughter Amneris, her Ethiopian slave Aida, and the great Egyptian warrior Radames. The love triangle is complicated. Radames and Aida are in love with each other – yet their love is unbeknownst to each other – but Amneris loves Radames. Aida is a tale of conflicting loyalties, forbidden love, and uncontrollable jealousy.
The Edmonton Opera is currently putting on Aida, running two more performances on October 23 and 25. “It’s an Aida not to be missed,” says Sandra Gajic, CEO of the Edmonton Opera. “Edmonton has a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see a grand opera presented the way Verdi really wanted – large chorus, numerous supers, and the singers are all at the top of their careers.”
This all sounds intensely awesome, right? Well… I agree with part of Ms. Gajic’s statement. The chorus was truly stupendous. When their voices all rose up together, the sound of it gave me shivers. The lead singers were also magnificent. Angela Brown, who played Aida, and Carl Tanner, who played Radames, definitely have amazing sets of pipes. Their voices played wonderfully together, complimenting and contrasting each other’s vocal qualities very well. Angela Brown’s voice also went very well with Elena Bocharova, who played Amneris. In one scene where Amneris tricks Aida into admitting that she’s in love with Radames, the two singers’ voices make an excellent pair: not too similar so as to cause confusion as to who is singing (for those of us way in the back!), yet not too different so as to sound forced.
However, Ms. Gajic also states that “it’s an Aida not to be missed,” and I’m not sure that I agree. In all honesty, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the performance on the whole. While I thought the singers – both the chorus and the male and female leads – did an excellent and commendable job, the whole thing fell short of my expectations.
Although it’s difficult to find room onstage for a cast of around one hundred members, I felt that more effort or thought could have been put into organizing all of these people. Apart from the huge head of the goddess Isis, the set design was largely lack-lustre. The staging was also awkward at many points. One of the performers would often run on stage, and face the audience while they were speaking to another performer behind them; it all felt forced. As well, many of the little things weren’t on-par. The surtitles occasionally didn’t show up or had typos in them, and sometimes the performers wouldn’t be on the right mark when a spotlight would shine down on them, so they would have to move over to be underneath it. For something that was promised to be grand, Aida actually felt a bit amateurish.
I also didn’t like the story itself. Although I’m always down for a good story about a love triangle, and this one sounded particularly intense, Aida actually comes off overly – and unnecessarily – dramatic. Spoiler alert: near the end of the story, Radames and Aida confess their love for each other. Radames tells Aida a military secret about the siege on Ethiopia, is thus declared a traitor to his country, and is sentenced to death. Later we see Radames enclosed in the tomb wherein he will die, and moments later Aida joins him. Aida says that she snuck into the tomb where she heard Radames was to be buried, so that she could die with him. Now, that’s all well and good, and is really romantic, but may I ask: if Aida knew where Radames was going to be buried, and allowed herself to be enclosed in the tomb with him, then why didn’t she bring a chisel or something to get them out?! The two of them die, but with better planning, they totally wouldn’t have had to. That really bothered me and I wasn’t able to get over it.
All in all, I think that what it all boils down to is that the magic simply wasn’t there; I totally wasn’t feeling the performance. While the singing in the performance is absolutely stunning, I am not convinced that Aida is worth spending a minimum of fifty dollars and almost three hours on.
Check out yeglive.ca for show information and ticket availability.