Aida (Opera North) – Review – Leeds Town Hall
By Sandra Callard, May 2019
Guiseppe Verdi’s Aida is an opera of massive proportions. The story is fast and violent, but with a touching and inevitably tragic love story at its heart. The scale of the original production is huge, and has famously included the entrance of an elephant in one long-awaited scene, so to produce this epic without costumes, scenery or colour seems to be a mammoth task. Nevertheless, this concert staging from Opera North and their numerous and talented associates have pulled it off to glorious effect within Leeds Town Hall, a building of eminent proportions which easily conveys the scope and drama of the story of Aida.
Set in the Pharaoh-dominated days of Egypt, the country wages war on the neighbouring country of Ethiopia, and conquers and enslaves the inhabitants. Amongst them is Aida, the daughter of the king of Ethiopia, who falls in love with the military chief of Egypt, and he with her. Thus the stage is set for love, drama and the terrible repercussions that ensue, as the magnificent music of Verdi fills the impressive surroundings.
“Technology and tradition”
This is no ordinary production of the famous opera and one of which I approached with some trepidation, being solely used to the tradition presentation of opera in a theatre setting with colour, scenery and costumes. In this concert setting we are presented with a vast array of elevated tiers containing the Chorus of Opera North which consists of some sixty singers, and the whole of the Orchestra of Opera North spread out below, comprising more than a hundred musicians. In front of this vast array is a small area where the characters of the singers perform the whole of the music of the opera. They are dressed in basic, mainly colourless and unidentifying clothing, which strips them of everything but their voices. It is alarmingly effective and an assured proof that technology and tradition can cohere perfectly in the hands of experts.
Aida and Radames, the leads, are sung by Alexandra Zabala and Rafael Rojas, both completely unassuming until they start to sing, and when they do so you are transported to the fertile hills of Ethiopia or the barren fields of battle with a surprising and uplifting ease. The huge area and scope of the auditorium are filled with an effortless sound that resonates beautifully and banishes the need for additional features.
There is nevertheless a single technical addition to the staging. High above the action below flies a picture of a tattered piece of white material, gossamer-like, and shapeless, which depicts from time to time vague forms of things relevant to the story; a clenched fist, bare feet walking on grass or a curved finger. It is silent and soulful and extremely impressive.
The lead characters have a ultra-strong support in their co-singers; Alessandra Volpe as Amneris, Eric Greene as Amonasro, and Petri Lindroos as Ramfis are all superb, and the massive input of the Opera North Chorus cannot be over-stressed, as their presence and interaction are equally as important as their singing. The Opera North Orchestra is on this occasion conducted by the eminent Sir Richard Armstrong, who has worked with Opera North on previous occasions, and whose expertise is infallible.
This is a superb production by artists who are experts in their various and varying theses, and is a collective testament to the crafts that brought this mind-blowing presentation to fruition.
images: Clive Barda