Aida

Giuseppe Verdi, libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni
Met Opera on Demand
Metropolitan Opera House, New York

It is very much Verdi week online at the Met. After Macbeth at the weekend, this Aida is followed on Wednesday 9 April by Falstaff, all of which will undoubtedly delight lovers of the great Italian composer.

The introduction to this presentation from October 2018 says it all, as hostess Isabel Leonard asserts that this is “grand opera on opera’s grandest stage”.

Sonja Frisell’s 2½-hour-long production is an old favourite, having first been staged at the Met 30 years before. However, it continues to feel as grandiose and fresh as ever, aided by a fantastic cast on top form.

Visually, this is one of those trademark productions that only the very greatest opera houses in the world could ever hope to stage, featuring a cast of hundreds.

The sets, designed by Gianni Quaranta, effortlessly take viewers back to ancient Egypt on a scale that takes the breath away. Statues and carvings are several storeys high, towering over the performers, each of whom wears Dada Saligeri’s gorgeous costumes. These are of a quality and beauty that deservedly tends to end up in theatre museums when they are eventually decommissioned.

There is no stinting when it comes to other production values, with the ballet utilising up to 16 dancers and even a couple of pairs of live horses appear on stage during victory celebrations.

The plot features a stirring tale of love and war on an epic scale. At a national level, Egypt is threatened by the invading Ethiopians and needs a hero to marshal the troops, conjuring up tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko as brave Radamès.

The personal element is injected by a battle for the love of that hero. On one side is the Egyptian King’s daughter, Amneris, played by mezzo soprano, Anita Rachvelishvili. The Princess’s rival, compromised by passion but also politics, is her slave, Aida, the Ethiopian King’s daughter portrayed by the incomparable Anna Netrebko.

The verbal and mental duel between the two women as they await the return of Radamès from a victorious venture is undoubtedly one of the evening’s highlights, both performers excelling vocally.

Equally powerful is the scene in which Quinn Kelsey playing the Ethiopian King Amonasro persuasively attempts to coerce his daughter into making the right choice between love of a man and love of her country and its people.

This is suitably stirring and, as always, the Met orchestra conducted by Nicola Luisotti is note perfect.

Watching in HD is never quite the same as being in the opera house but the cameramen have done their best to give an impression of the overall experience, sometimes using unlikely angles including shots from high up directly above the stage.

The acting may sometimes be exposed by the close-ups, but the spectacle is stunning, while the singing of the central trio is absolutely extraordinary in a joyous production that fully deserves its place in this selection of the best of the best, chosen to help us take our minds off theatre closures and the temporary cessation of normal life.

There are a number of ways of tapping into this opera and others at will. The Met Opera On Demand service offers annual ($149.99) and monthly ($14.99) subscriptions as well as a one-off payment ($4.99) for those who have limited time or only want to watch the occasional opera.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher