The 2017/8 season at The Royal Opera House Muscat opened to a packed house this weekend with the same Opera Verdi wrote to inaugurate the Khedivial Opera House in Cairo in 1871 and the opening of the Suez Canal.
Receiving numerous accolades, the 2005 production from the distinguished Teatro Regio Torino from Italy provided a fitting curtain-raiser for the ROHM’s seventh season on Thursday evening.
Verdi’s Aida is tragedy about war, hopeless love, loyalty to one’s nation and jealousy.
Set in ancient Egypt in a time of war. It is the tale of a love triangle – a beautiful Nubian princess Aida, a handsome Egyptian commander Radamès and the powerful Egyptian princess Amneris. A story of loyalty – Radamès, in love with the enchanting Aida struggles to choose between his love for this exotic beauty from an enemy land and his loyalty to his people and the Pharaoh. This potentially volatile circumstance further complicated by the fact that Pharaoh’s daughter, Amneris is also in love with Radamès although unrequited.
The spectacle was directed by Academy Award winning New Hollywood author of such masterpieces of the 1970s as ‘The French Connection’ and ‘The Exorcist’, William Friedkin. However, he remained faithful to the original scenario, avoiding the temptation of modern redesigning, and the opera was set dramatically in the Temple of Isis at Luxor, on the banks of the Nile, with meticulous detail to period design.
Thursday’s performance presented the African American soprano, Kristin Lewis as the ill-fated Aida in a sterling portrayal of passion, torment and resignation. Her beautiful arias in the last Act provided a platform for her considerable dramatic talent and did justice to her dynamic range and sensitive palette of vocal colours and warmth.
Opposite her as Radames was the American tenor, Gregory Kunde whose resume since 1978 is as impressive as any on the world stage. With Kenneth Brannagh-like good looks and huge stage presence he played a convincing hero, torn between ever deepening conflicting loyalties to the woman he desperately wants to marry and his country, which he is committed to serve.
Pitted against this volatile situation was the darling of the show. Georgian mezzo-soprano, Anita Rachvelishvili, stole the night with her dramatic portrayal as the slighted Princess Amneris, daughter of the Pharaoh and rival of Aida for the love of Radames. Her vocal range, quality and warmth in all registers was astounding, and the Muscat audience was privileged to experience one of the finest singers of the age performing the role of Amneris.
The Orchestra and Chorus Teatro Regio Torino were conducted by their musical director since 2007, Maestro Gianandrea Noseda, who was recognised as Conductor of the Year in 2016. His grasp of the complexity of Verdi’s score brought out the contrast between the intimate subtlety of the domestic scenes and the pomp and splendour of the famous triumphal scene – with 6 on-stage Egyptian trumpets – at the end of Act 2.
Credits have to be given to Anna Maria Bruzzese, choreographer to Teatro Regio Torino since 2004, for choreographing one of the memorable scenes of the evening with Corps de Ballet performing an ethereal dance as Priestesses of the Temple in flowing white gowns to the only section of the score based on a faux-Egyptian scale.
The weighty role of Ramphis, the High Priest of the goddess Isis, was played superbly by the formidable Korean bass-baritone, In-sung Sim. Off stage and beautifully beguiling was the voice of Silvia Beltrami, Priestess in the Temple of Vulcan. Both rendered impressive performances which did not go unnoticed.
Divided into four acts each with their respective standout moments and with massive stage designs in different acts all mind-blowing in their breadth and scale there were surprisingly few noticeable glitches.
The show closed with Aida and Radames finding solace in their destiny — a cruel justice which condemns Radames to being entombed alive for treason not expecting that Aida will join him in eternal darkness. Amneris has only solitude, remorse and rejection left to face in life, and our sympathies lie with her as we leave the auditorium, uplifted by Verdi’s magnificent panorama of the human condition.