[Met Performance] CID:294940

Metropolitan Opera House, Wed, December 28, 1988

Review 1:

Review of Richard Dyer in the Boston Globe

Met's 'Aida': Loud voices crying in the ruins

NEW YORK - The Metropolitan Opera's new production of Verdi's "Aida" suggests that the Pharaohs lived amid the vestiges of their own civilization. The palaces, temples and statues were already crumbling and tumbling, and boulders obstructed the hallways and the public squares of Memphis.

And in a way, it stands as metaphor for the way the whole "Aida" was Wednesday night - although this was just the sixth performance, the production was already coming apart; it looked and sounded like a premature ruin, a routine road show musical performance unsuccessfully camouflaged by the expenditure of a lot of street window money. People didn't seem to know what they were doing, or why, and Verdi asks for more than that.

Gianni Quaranta's sets, Dada Saligeri's costumes and Sonja Frisell's stage production are "traditional" in all the bad old ways, and apart from the spectacular operation of the Met's stage elevator - which was more feverishly applauded than the singing of any of the great arias - it could have been devised at any point in the last hundred years. But that doesn't make it "authentic"- authenticity is a matter of style, of feeling, of conviction, and this production lacked all three.

Some of the scenery was handsome - particularly the scene in Amneris' apartments - and none

of it looked cheap, the way the Met's last "Aida" did. But the Nile Scene was almost completely

without atmosphere - there were no palm trees, and no boats on the river; an ugly rock formation gave Amonasro his hiding place. There was little choreography, and the delicate music Verdi wrote for a sinuous dance of Priestesses inappropriately accompanied the armoring of a warrior. In this scene, too, one could clearly see that the Egyptians had invented Velcro.

Frisell was the kind of director who couldn't make some performers act, and couldn't make others stop. Amneris, taking the air outside the temple, overheard her lover's plan to flee with another woman and the plot to betray her country with apparent unconcern; Aida, on the other hand, translated every flicker of emotion into flamboyantly unconvincing gesture. Frisell's only "Idea" was to leave Amonasro in view during the Aida/Radames seduction duet, which Aida sang with almost as many nervous glances at her father as she darted in the direction of the prompter and conductor,

who, on tins occasion, was Christian Badea, deputizing for James Levine, who was taking his annual seasonal vacation, Under the circumstances the young Romanian conductor did a creditable job, which is more than most of the others managed to do.

Leona Mitchell was the Aida, and she ought to have been a lot better than she was; she still has a beautiful voice and a striking appearance. But instead of trying to find the lovely lyric Aida that lies within her instrument, she has tried to make her voice sound like an idea she has about how loud and dramatic an Aida ought to be. In an odd way, Mitchell's live singing sounded like a studio recording of a rock singer - twirl up the volume here, add a little re-verb there. Often she made up the words as she went along, and in another aspect of her effort to sound louder than she is, she constantly sang around the beat, rather than on it, with the orchestra.

The Met has performed "Aida" more than 900 times, and over the past 30 years Fiorenza Cossotto has probably sung Amneris more often even than that. You have to admire her stamina, but all her experience has not revealed further subtleties in the role to her, and the molten gold of her youthful voice is now corrugated steel. Even Cossotto, constantly pulled to center stage as if by lateral gravity, could not compete with two horses stationed alongside her in the Triumphal Scene.

There was a new tenor as Radames, Lando Bartolini, whose voice has a fine Italianate ring. When he tries for subtlety, he sings off pitch and runs out of breath, but at least he did try a couple of times. He is not an actor, and his gold lame platform shoes were only a few inches away from qualifying as stilts. Neither Sherrill Milnes (Amonasro) nor Paul Plishka (Ramfis) can roll their voices through this music the way they used to, but they still know how it is supposed to go, and that counted for something.

Both "The Wall Street Journal" and "New York" magazine reported that the best singing on [the first] night came from Sarah Reese as the offstage priestess, which wasn't news to anyone who has heard her sing with Sarah Caldwell in Boston. But Wednesday evening the flu threatened to turn Reese's voice into Sherrill Milnes', and Margaret Jane Wray performed instead. Hers was not the best singing of the evening. She was another illustration of the Met's mistaken belief that a loud, sprawling, unwieldy voice is what the house requires. What the Met requires instead is what "Aida" requires. good, honest singing, and the belief that the opera is about something more than how much money it costs to put it on - and how much money it costs to go and see it.

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