Aida (Opera Australia) – opera review

The opening night of Opera Australia’s spectacular staging of Verdi’s dramatic opera Aida was blighted by a major technical failure. The surtitles, which were to appear above the stage and translate the lyrics into English, were nowhere to be seen for the first 20 minutes or so. So, if you didn’t happen to know the story you would have had little to no idea about what was going on.

More is the pity because soprano Leah Crocetto is superb as Aida, the staging involving 10 large digital screens – constantly in operation – is something special and the costuming by Gianluca Falaschi is lavish throughout. Without surtitles operating, it takes a while to pick up the story threads but once you do, you realise that two powerful women are in love with the same man and the consequences are disastrous.

Photos by Jeff Busby

In short, Egypt and Ethiopia are at war. Egyptian captain Radamès (Stefano La Colla) leads his troops to victory, after which there is much celebration. By way of reward, the King of Egypt (Gennadi Dubinsky) promises him his daughter Amneris’ (Elena Gabouri) hand in marriage. But Radamès is in love with a beautiful slave girl, Aida (Crocetto), who is handmaiden to princess Amneris.

In reality, Aida is an Ethiopian princess. Among the “slaves” Radamès has captured is Aida’s father Amonasro (Michael Honeyman), the King of Ethiopia. The King of Egypt grants Radamès any wish and he requests freedom for all the captured slaves, including Amonasro. Amonasro then puts his daughter, Aida, into an impossible position, strongarming her to put love of her country before anything else, which ends up sealing Radamès’ fate.

Musically, Aida features the glorious Triumphal March, one of the most recognised pieces of classical music in the world. Egyptian motifs predominate in this production and the gold and red palate, ostensibly used, is highly evocative, quite the contrast to the green blue hues that open the second half.

Further, the appearance of a stylised jet-black jaguar and a serpent make a bold statement. Digital technology continues to take giant strides and to its great credit, Opera Australia has taken full advantage, with entertainment design company D-Wok responsible for digital content and the studio Giò Forma for set design. It adds rich texture to an already highly emotive opera. I should add that after interval the tension ramps up appreciably as the battle to save the war hero escalates.

With her magnificent voice, Crocetto gives a powerful and moving performance as the “prisoner” torn between her love of country, her father and the man she wants as her life partner. We – the audience – ride every bump. What more could we ask for? She is superb. Also impressive are the other key players, notably Elena Gabouri as Amneris and Stefano La Colla as Radamès.

So, despite the opening night troubles, which will undoubtedly be rectified, Opera Australia’s Aida – created by Italian Davide Livermore and directed by Shane Placentino – is a triumphant production that mesmerises. It is playing at the State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne until 21st May, 2021.

Alex First

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