[Met Performance] CID:244140

New Production

Metropolitan Opera House, Tue, February 3, 1976

Debut : Stanley Perryman, Gilbert Hemsley

Aida (819)
Giuseppe Verdi | Antonio Ghislanzoni
Leontyne Price

James McCracken

Marilyn Horne

Cornell MacNeil

Bonaldo Giaiotti

James Morris

Charles Anthony

Marcia Baldwin

Eleanor Bobb

Nicolyn Emanuel

Diana Levy

William Badolato

Jack Hertzog

Stanley Perryman [Debut]

James Levine

John Dexter

Set Designer
David Reppa

Costume Designer
Peter J. Hall

Lighting Designer
Gilbert Hemsley [Debut]

Louis Johnson

Aida received twenty-six performances this season.

Production a gift of the Gramma Fisher Foundation, Marshalltown, Iowa

Review 1:

Review of John Higgins in the London Times

The Met and New York have waited for some time for the first wholly new production under the artistic directorship of James Levine and John Dexter. "Aida" is the chosen opera, and predictably enough, it has been received a little coolly in some quarters. There is a long-running tradition among the critics of giving any new management a roughish reception. The public thinks a little differently, and despite some interval cries of "Bring on the camels" Aida has been a considerable success. It is playing to capacity audiences and looks like it will continue to do so.

John Dexter sees the panoply of "Aida" as something quite close to a fascist display of might. Radames strides onstage, a Wagner Heldentenor in all but his flowing black hair; Amneris is cocooned in Near-Eastern finery; the king is a figure as venerable and remote as the Emperor Altoum in "Turandot." Dexter, abetted by James Levine in the pit, plays up the military music -these Egyptians would go to war at the first hint of a fanfare. The Ethiopians in their simplicity are always the oppressed race, constantly at risk of being trampled on.

The demonstration of the superiority of the master race reaches its climax in the triumph scene. For a few minutes the ballet becomes the focal point of the opera as the Egyptian champion (danced by William Badolato) is matched against the Ethiopian (Stanley Perryman), who is never in with a chance. The Egyptian is chaired off by the crowd much in the manner of Escamillo after a particularly good day in the bullring. Louis Johnson provides some of the most telling choreography I have encountered in "Aida," including that for an androgynous figure in the first act who suggests that the Egyptian court and its religious advisers are leading straight for decadence, if they have not reached it already.

This Egypt has become atrophied in a series of stylized gestures, which have come down from some ancient frieze; hands and palms semaphore, fingertips brush fingertips. At this point John Dexter begins to ask a little too much of some of his singers. There are those who remember the stylization and those who do not.

I have doubts too about seeing "Aida" as a dark Egyptian victory. The curtain goes up on Radames silhouetted against a half golden orb of the sun, and thereafter night takes over. The triumph scene is removed from the conventional African glare and lit only by flaming torches. It looks effective enough, but it is not easy to work out the motivation. On the other hand there is no doubt about the excellence of David Reppa's sets, which climb up, pyramid-fashion, to the sky.

The Egyptians, whatever their military strength, are dwarfed by their own immense creations in stone. Dexter tries to focus down on the human relationships, but he is not helped by a cast of distinctly limited acting ability. Leontyne Price has been singing Aida for many years now, but since first hearing her in 1959 I have noticed little change in the interpretation. She is at her best when she has nothing to do but let that mellow, burnished tone roll forth, as in "O patria mia." This was exquisitely sung, as was the following duet with Radames, "Là tra foreste vergini." Earlier the sumptuousness of the voice had a little roughness around the edges.

Marilyn Horne made much more of a character of Amneris, almost inviolable in her wrappings of silk and glittering brocade. The mezzo is firm, clear and totally unshakable; there may be a dash of gravel in the lower register, but that goes well with Amneris. James McCracken is not the sweetest of Radameses, but that again goes well with Dexter's view of Egyptian oppressors. The lack of honey is easily compensated for by the attack and volume which the size of the Met demands. These two qualities also characterized the Amonasro of Cornell MacNeil. But the most impressive of the male singers was James Morris, a young bass who gets better each time I hear him, as the King.

James Levine is becoming a subtle Verdi conductor. The obviousness and flashiness of his early days are being reined in, and a delicate shading of the score is taking their place. Mr. Levine does not shirk the big moments but makes them all the more effective by the new-found reticence he also coaxes from the orchestra. The Met has acquired a polished, thoughtful Aida, which has ideas without extravagance.

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