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opera australia presents verdi’s ‘aida’ @ dame joan sutherland theatre

Above: Opera Australia Dancers. Featured image: David Parkin as The King and the Opera Australia Chorus and Dancers. LED lighting effects and projections by D-Wok. Photo credit : Keith Saunders.

This grand opera by Giuseppe Verdi, intended to glorify Egypt and open a new Opera House in that country. First performed on Christmas Eve in 1871, this tale of warring nations, secret royal identities and a vociferous love triangle with a battle hero at its centre is cliché but sumptuous fare, set to Verdi’s clever atmospheric music..

Opera Australia’s current production is a revival of Davide Livermore’s version first seen and heard in all its grand opera-meets-digital-display excellence. Whatever your impression of D-Wok’s LED sets and constant video projections mixed with the analogue costumes, headdress and prop excellence the overall impact remains definitely grand and spectacular.

But opera is not a mere circus and the flow of quality vocal music from solo through to huge ensemble is essential. Conductor Stuart Stratford guided the music in this opening along Verdi’s atmospheric peaks and troughs, providing an effective backdrop for some huge voices onstage and some resounding crowd scenes.

The famous ‘Triumphant March’ for the victory ceremony marking success in the battle against Ethiopa bounced around the space from ceremonial trumpets placed high in the opera boxes. This was a stirring musical moment.

Above: Leah Crocetto as Aida Photo credit Keith Saunders.

Revival director Shaun Rennie harnesses the large forces in such crowd scenes effectively as chorus, dancers, priests in headdresses often seen in hieroglyphics plus the principals all were required in the stage space.

As well as the unfortunately still-familiar story of nearby countries fighting over land, AIDA deals with a savage love triangle between Princess Amneris (Elena Gabouri), the undercover Ethiopian Princess Aida (Leah Crocetto) and leader of the Egyptian forces, Radamès (Najmiddin Mavlyanov).

The return of the powerhouse voices for the rival Princesses give this dynamic production a next-level vocal edge. Elena Gabouri’s menacingly dark lower register notes were matched by a commanding stage presence and exciting stage chemistry with Radamès and Aida.

Gabouri’s place in the ceremonial and other crowd tableaux was always well presented and focussed. Her resignation to Radamès’ fate and anger at the priests was an effective about turn in “ Ahimè! ..morir mi sento .. Radamès, è deciso il tuo fato”.

Above: Elena Gabouri as Amneris .Digital backdrop by D-Wok. Photo credit: Keith Saunders.

Matching this vocal and dramatic intensity was Leah Crocetto’s portrayal of Princess Aida. Her vocal control enabling soft silvery high register notes to emerge amidst Verdi’s stronger melodic contours was a repeated event here, stunning to witness. This soprano’s  “O Patria Mia’ moment was a spellbinding example of longing and disciplined dramatic singing.

The standout vocal discovery here amidst so many great characterisations and dramatic voices has to be Najmiddin Mavlyanov in the role of Radamès. Displaying a facile and believable characterisation, his vocal delivery was just as seamless.

The major arias in his character’s journey, from “Celeste Aida” through to his final moment were svelte, smooth and a joy to experience in this theatre.

His was an incredibly watchable operatic acting style, fuelled by a voice of firm sweetness. This skilled stage sound urged us to follow it wherever predicament or the doomed love triangle took Radamès. It was never forced nor challenging to listen to but rather a pearl of definite integrity and beauty in a busy, multicoloured environment.

Above: Najmiddin Mavlyanov as Radamès. Photo credit: Keith Saunders.

Also steady voiced and excellent in interactions, especially with Amneris and Radamès throughout is Roberto Scandiuzzi as high priest Ramfis. His presence in several scenes of exposition and development was another analogue stage highlight.

Costuming for the large chorus, dancers and cast of principles was spectacular. Costume designer Gianluca Falaschi has created a multifaceted world with shapes and colours which both compete with the cinematic D-Wok adventure version of this classic and complement it.

The result of such combination of elements in this production is a huge, busy yet beautifully dazzling retelling of this loved  grand opera. It has a huge visual buffet to partake in. This AIDA aims to attract and move both established opera fans and newcomers to the opera experience or genre.

 AIDA plays at the Dame Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House until July 21, with an alternate cast and conductor for the second half of the run.

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