8th March 2011
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
I didn't catch this David McVivar production last time round, and now I see why people complained about it when it was premiered last year. I very much liked McVicar's "brothel" Rigoletto that was revived earlier this season - the staging's darkness and decay provided a real sense of atmosphere and an unnerving immediacy. Here the McVicar taste for bewbs and blud has become a trope, expected and dull. The idea of a big rotating wall panel that features so powerfully in his Rigoletto makes a return here, but it looks tacky and cheap - above all pointless - it's become a cliché, included for it's own sake. The turntable in the centre is virtually never not moving, sometimes serving no purpose other than to inject a tiny bit of motion into an otherwise static scene.
What's really awful about this production though is the sort of sci-fi borrowing from all cultures in an attempt to make some sort of timeless ancient/futuristic empire, primitive, yet sophisticated etc. as we see endlessly on Star Trek, Star Wars, Farscape and the like. The result of course, is anything but timeless and reminds one of Las Vegas style High Kitsch - the best quality tack that money can buy. The lighting is often garishly colourful, again adding to the TV Sci-fi feel of it. Hard to take seriously.
The thing is, what do we do with these spectacle operas these days? Hard to know. Ultra traditional seems to fit the frank bombast of the music but is alienating and seems anathema to the zeitgeist (thankfully Zeffirelli's cast of a thousand/chocolate box approach seems to be firmly on the wane). Modernisation often seems an appealing alternative but can leave the music feeling oddly ungrounded and inappropriately conventional for the setting (or more likely the otherway round). This McVicar production is a sort of unhappy amalgam of both approaches, Hollywoodish and completely without taste or style.
The singing was quite decent throughout. I've never been the greatest Alagna fan as he's not a great actor and the voice just doesn't thrill me (not to mention his annoying haircut), but he produced some nice sounds here and he really warmed up towards the end. Olga Borodina as Amneris was in glowing voice - probably the best of the performance. It's a very large dramatic voice but doesn't compensate in beauty of tone - I'd love to hear her in the Verdi Requiem or in Wagner. In her deportment, acting and physical stage presence she was however completely unconvincing as a young woman. Micaela Carosi as Aida is the cast's weak link - consistantly flat, a very wide slow vibrato, just two volumes (loud and inaudible). It sounds like it might have been a nice voice once, but it's not pleasant as it stands. The three bass roles were all strong but Vitalij Kowaljow as the High Priest Ramfis stood out - such tremendous power and force in the tone without it ever sounding strained or wobbling.
Call me a plebian, but for me Aida doesn't really sustain interest musically until Act 3, with Amneris' monologue and then the final duet/trio which here caught me off guard because it was genuinely moving in what had been a largely uninvolving performance in Acts 1 and 2. The orchestra was on fine form, Fabio Luisi's conducting solid but not inspired. A strange evening's entertainment...