Opera North brought Verdi’s Aida to Usher Hall on the evening of Tuesday 21st May as part of their 2019 tour of the production. Annabel Arden directs and Sir Richard Armstrong, previously director of both the Welsh National Opera and Scottish Opera, conducts the orchestra. Frequently acknowledged to be one of the UK’s best touring opera companies, Opera North were very well received. Aida is often remembered for its colourful and exotic staging, but this paired back production was well carried by Verdi’s composition and impassioned performances from the cast.
Having the orchestra on full display, as they are at Usher Hall, is a real treat. It is what is known as a concert staging. The impact of the opening overture, where an audience would usually be able to take in the spectacle of the whole orchestra, was slightly diminished in this instance by unnecessary action from the singers at the front of the stage. The performers transitioned clunkily between a series of tableaux. The production suffered from a few gimmicky additions like this one; a corpse bought in by the messenger in the first act seemed out of place in an otherwise minimal staging, a broken jug served as a meaningless motif throughout, Amneris’ multiple outfits were at odds with the single monotone costumes of the rest of company. Otherwise the staging was effective in its simplicity. A full choir was also on stage throughout. They were somewhat poorly integrated into the otherwise slick production; a large projection screen drew attention away from them, and they seemed to lack commitment to the direction. However it is a worthwhile trade-off for the spectacular sound that they produce.
It was after the interval that the cast’s full vocal capacity became clear. Alexandra Zabala’s ‘O Mia Patria’ was endearing, if a little restrained, but the two acts that followed are a memorable showcase of Verdi’s mastery of multiple voices. Eric Greene as Amonasro has a rich tone, perfect for conveying the pride and pain of a defeated leader and suffering father. Rafael Rojas’ Radamès lacks the initial triumph of a leader at the height of his military career, but is fantastic as the browbeaten lover torn between his pride and two powerful women in a characterisation reminiscent of Macbeth. Zabala and Alessandra Volpe both give performances that are compellingly energetic, with voices. The final movement where the Aida and Radamès resign themselves to dying together in Radamès’ crypt is moving, and the lovers voices balance each other elegantly, suggesting a certain peace in the opera’s resolution. It might be too much for some but with Verdi, melodrama is part of the package, and Opera North have executed it very well here.
Opera North will be performing in Liverpool on Friday night, followed by Leeds, Manchester, Hull and Birmingham in the coming weeks.
Opera North’s concert staging of Verdi’s Aida, Spring 2019
Alexandra Zabala as Aida with the Chorus and Orchestra of Opera North
Conductor Sir Richard Armstrong, Director Annabel Arden, Designs and Video Direction Joanna Parker, Video Design Dick Straker, Lighting Designer Richard Moore
Photo credit: Clive Barda