Giuseppe Verdi
Verona Opera Festival
Arena di Verona, Italy

Production photo, showing the Pyramid

Take Verdi’s great Egyptian epic, Aida, written at the request of the Khedive of Cairo in celebration of the city’s new opera house and first performed there in December 1871. Add a company of some of Italy’s finest young soloists directed by the master of the grand stage, Franco Zeffirelli – and place the entire proceedings in the great two thousand year old Arena Di Verona.

The result is a pageant of music and spectacle recording the valorous Egyptians repulsing the barbarous Ethiopians. All to the evident delight of a 14,000 assembly drawn from around the world for this great annual Italian festival.

The entire company, audience included, it seems at times, is under the musical direction of Maestro Daniel Oren, led to the podium by a caring member of staff determined that he shall step safely into the spotlight each time.

For this most impressive of the six performances staged at Verona this year, the great Italian pageant master has had constructed in the centre of the mighty Arena, a huge pyramid, assembled in horizontal sections. However, we must contain our excitement at the prospect offered by this vast structure as we are entertained by the intimacies which might well account for the not infrequent suggestions, entirely erroneous in this writer’s view, that Aida can be quite well produced in a spare form. If there is the slightest truth in that theory, it is certainly not evidenced in the Arena of Verona.

Within moments of the prelude, we are immersed in the famous Romanza as Radames, in the handsome person of the tenor Piero Guiliacci delights the great audience with Celeste Aida. Barely has the applause for this subsided than we are faced with the bitter rivalry for the heroic soldier expressed now by the brilliant soprano Micaela Carosi as Aida and the silken mezzo Tichina Vaughn as Amneris. The duets between these two voiced are among the highlights of the evening.

There are also fine performances by the bass Marco Spotti as the king with baritone Mark Rucker as Amonasro, leader of the Ethiopians.

For the arrival of the court we have our first glimpse into the Aladdin’s cave of the pyramid interior as the front slides open to admit an impressive array of royal extras.

With the announcement of Rademes command, the cry goes up “Ritorna vicitor" ("As victor return") and the crowd’s departure is taken up in a magnificent aria by Aida.

One of the great scenes for soprano and mezzo in all Italian opera lifts the performance early in Act 2 as Ameris commiserates with Aida over the defeat of the Ethiopians. This, however, is nothing to the blaze of colour in scene 2 as trumpets announce the return of the victorious army. The bombastic brass sound of Verdi’s famous Aida trumpets echoes around the great Arena.

The trumpets are 1.52 meters long, straight and without valves, the six having been specially made in Milan expressly for the grand march. Three of the instruments are in A-flat and three in B-flat minor, the first playing the march in unison in E-flat-major and the second taking over the melody in B-major. The effect is so truly rousing that not even a Wagner score could be more thrilling.

As if this rich stir of brass were not enough, the triumph is further enlivened by the corps de ballet under the direction of Maria Grazia Garofoli, featuring soloists Myrna Kamara and and Giovanni Patti. The Act 2 spectacular is launched by the dance of the slaves in Act 2 scene 1, followed by the great spectacle of Act 2 scene 2.

After this, the closing scenes are inevitably a beautifully sung anticlimax as Radames, sentenced to die in the tomb for love of the wrong woman, is joined in death by Aida and the lovers sing their farewell to life, “O terra addio" ("Farewell O earth”).

As the litany of war in the Middle East continues apace, one reflects with the words and music of Aida that is only the names of the protagonists that change with time.

The performance of Aida is repeated on 28th July and on 4th, 10th, 16th and 22nd August.

Reviewer: Kevin Catchpole

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