Aida | Opera Australia

Aida | Opera AustraliaLeft – Walter Fraccaro and David Parkin. Cover – Milijana Nikolic and Latonia Moore. Photos – Prudence Upton

Set in Memphis on the Nile's West bank during the old kingdom, Verdi's masterpiece Aida tells a tale of forbidden love set against a backdrop of war. Aida, Radames and Amneris are caught up in a disastrous love triangle that results in the live burial of Aida and Radames.

Director Gale Edward's production is visually impressive thanks to glittering costuming and beautiful lighting. The problems of this production aren't a lack of visual spectacle though, but rather an odd conglomeration of many different styles that leave one feeling dizzy and confused. The first half includes extras wearing Mardi Gras style outfits that look like something from science fiction, alongside men in army uniforms (pants and boots inspired by the Nazi's and the upper body imitating South American dictators) and women wearing camped up French Baroque style dresses. There was a can-can dance (the guy seated in front of me couldn't believe his eyes and was shaking his head – he didn't return for Act 2), gold winged birds, a high priestess who made me think I was at Hoyts watching the Hunger Games, a fireworks display, and the eponymous heroine wearing a headpiece that reminded me of the Brazilian bombshell Carmen Miranda (Aida's head dress was actually a yellow turban although you could be forgiven for thinking she had pineapples on her head). Granted, I may have missed the symbolic meaning behind the design, but thanks to the venue refusing to give me a program I was unable to read the notes.

The indisputable star of the evening was Latonia Moore in the title role – her voice was powerful, sweet and seemingly effortless and her arias in the second act were particularly enjoyable. Walter Fraccaro as Aida's love interest was competent and committed although I didn't particularly warm to his vocal tone which sounded tired; there was also an absence of any sense of chemistry between the two leads which was disappointing. The attractive and competent Milijana Nikolic as Amneris was convincingly jealous and love sick and sang with a wonderfully dark and dramatic mezzo voice. Her singing was a little unsteady in the first half but this improved greatly after interval. Michael Honeyman, David Parkin and Gennadi Dubinsky as Amonasro, Ramfis and the King respectively all gave solid performances. Eva Kong as the high priestess sang with a sweet tone that happily didn't cause any distortion to the amplified sound.

The volume of the amplification was a big problem as it was just too loud when the whole cast was going full pelt – you don't expect to have to stick your fingers in your ears at the opera. Thankfully in the second act the volume level was better and it became possible to focus on the singing rather than being distracted by the harshness of the volume.

The men and women of the chorus were brilliant as always and the entrance of the grey generals in act 1 with tenor David Lewis at the helm was memorable. Conductor Brian Castles-Onion lovingly led the orchestra to produce wonderful colours that will be even more wonderful once the sound issues have been resolved – such a shame though that the orchestra was nowhere to be seen.

This current production of Aida, although odd, is nevertheless a visually impressive spectacle full of wonderful music and as such definitely worth a look. After all, who can resist a night of Verdi's music set against the backdrop of Sydney Harbour.

Opera Australia presents
Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour
by Giuseppe Verdi

Director Gale Edward

Venue: Opera on Sydney Harbour | Fleet Steps, Mrs Macquaries Point NSW
Dates: 27 March – 26 April 2015.
Tickets: from $79

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