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Aida

Giuseppe Verdi
Welsh National Opera
Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff
(2008)

Production photo

Remarkably, it has been twenty years since the WNO last performed Aida, arguably Verdi's greatest and certainly his most popular operatic work. It will not be so long, one feels, before this production is dusted off and re-staged.

Coincidentally, the handsome staging, which re-unites the creative team behind the highly successful Don Carlos two-and-a-half years ago, chimes with The Lure of the East: British Orientalist Painting, currently at the Tate Britain, and, in particular, the paintings of (American) John Singer Sargent.

Another key element in the success of the production, which is directed with panache by John Caird, is the contribution of WNO regular and Verdi Medal winner Dennis O'Neill in the role of Radames, leader of the Egyptian army.

The set feels a little stiff and monolithic at first, a characteristic of the recent Il Trovatore, which rather cramped the stage. Here, we are confronted by a huge rock, or stone edifice. However, the set comes into its own with the appointment of Radames as general in the impending war with the processing of officials up and across the various levels, resembling an Egyptian fresco.

In truth, the design is a mish-mash, mixing ancient - a human sacrifice, a large metal sun - with more recent - fez - and the nondescript outfit worn by O'Neill, typical of many a Shakespearean history play over the last thirty years. The choreography, by Denni Sayers, also felt earthbound, a consequence in part, perhaps, of the limitations imposed by the set design (Yannis Thavoris).

But the musical performances are secure enough. O'Neill, now in his autumn years, is as strong as one would expect for such a seasoned performer; Philip Joll's Amonasro has presence, while Zvetelina Vassileva's Aida is thrilling.

Acknowledgement should also be made of Margaret Jane Gray's passionate Amneris. The typically fine WNO chorus, which certainly made its presence felt in the ensemble scenes, is well supplemented by a 'community chorus'.

Reviewer: Pete Wood