Big-Boned But Routine Aida

Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center, NY; Nov 4, 2014–The Met’s 26-year-old production of Aida is still looking good. Sonja Frisell’s sets, which use the stage elevator wisely and excitingly to change scenes, with their gigantic statuary and beautiful paintings for the scene in Amneris’ boudoir, remain effective. However, Stephen Pickover’s stage direction is not effective—we might as well be watching a 1958 production in which the characters stand forward and sing and invariably do not move when movement is called for. For instance, in the third act, when Aida is trying to seduce Radames into envisioning their happy future lives together, why is she as far away from him on the stage as possible? The music is caressing; the characters are ignoring one another. They rarely interact.

Liudmyla Monastyrska’s Aida exhibits precisely the right voice for the part. Her sound is gigantic, rarely ever crossing over into shrillness, even at the very top; she rides over the orchestra in the Triumphal Scene as any great Aida should, and she has learned to scale back her voice and spin long, pianissimo phrases. Granted, the pianissimo singing does not sound altogether comfortable or lovely, but she is a very musical singer and this can be corrected.

Her real issues are her poor diction and utterly disinterested acting: one could blame director Pickover, but I doubt it. Monastyrska looks bored and entirely disengaged. Some phrases are tinged with passion or sadness, but we can hear the artistic, rather than emotional cogs turning. Radames, the no-longer-welcome Marcello Giordani, has now lost whatever he had of a bottom half octave, and his top notes–tough, loud, and ringing–seem to be being squeezed out of his head, like toothpaste from a tube. And he stands and stares out at the audience as if entranced. A startlingly bad performance.

Zeljko Lucic has turned into the go-to baritone for Verdi roles, and he gets better every season. His Amonasro is excitingly sung, his voice fills the house, and he makes an attempt at character. Olga Borodina’s Amneris can still thrill despite the loss of her topmost notes and the fact that she saves her voice for her exciting Judgment Scene. And while her acting is silent-movie primitive, well, so is her character.

Newcomer Dmitry Belosselsky has a fine, dark bass voice that he uses effectively as Ramfis; the same might be said of Solomon Howard’s King. Lori Gulbeau’s Priestess is prettily sung.

Marco Armiliato leads the score as if his cast was better–taut in confrontations, lovely when needed–and the orchestra is at its best. The solo flute at the start of the Nile Scene is hypnotic; the brass rings out freely. And the chorus is magnificent.