Saturday, December 08, 2012

DRAMA IN THE HOUSE

AIDA                         Revival 
Metropolitan Opera 
29 November 2012 
© SAM H. SHIRAKAWA 

Conductor..............Fabio Luisi
Production..............Sonja Frisell
Set designer............Gianni Quaranta
Costume designer........Dada Saligeri
Lighting designer.......Gil Wechsler
Choreographer...........Alexei Ratmansky 
Stage Director..........Stephen Pickover

Aida....................Lyudmyla Monastyrska 
Radamès.................Carl Tanner
Amneris.................Olga Borodina
Amonasro................Alberto Mastromarino
Ramfis..................Stefan Kocán
King....................Miklós Sebestyèn 
Messenger...............Hugo Vera
Priestess...............Jennifer Check
Dance...................Christine Hamilton
Dance...................Bradley Shelver 
Lyudmyla Monastyrska

Ever since I attended a fateful performance of Aida at the Deutsche Oper Berlin on 20 April 2001, the Nile Scene has been marred for me in one way or another. During this scene at that performance, Giuseppe Sinopoli collapsed at the podium. He later was pronounced dead at the age of 54. 

Mortality haunted the occasion. It was Sinopoli’s first appearance in Charlottenburg following a protracted absence, owing to a rift with Götz Friedrich, long-time Intendant of the Deutsche Oper. His two scheduled performances were considered Engagements of Reconciliation, but Friedrich died before he was able to welcome Sinopoli back to Berlin. Oddly enough, the last time I had witnessed Sinopoli conduct an opera prior to this performance was a Salome on 14 October 1991, when he stood on the same podium at the Deutsche Oper and announced the death earlier that day of Leonard Bernstein. 

What troubles me still, is that no physician was immediately available to aid Sinopoli as he lay unconscious between two music stands. The only doctor in the house was seated in the first tier.  She had to retrieve her valise from her car, parked in a nearby garage, before entering the pit. Sinopoli had lain motionless and supine on the orchestra pit floor for what seemed an eon, when she finally reached him. In the meantime, several principals and sundry others came out in costume and peered over the stage apron to gawk at what by now must surely have become the remains of Maestro Sinopoli. Had succor been available immediately, could he have been saved? 

Since that awful night, eight out eight performances I have witnessed of the Nile Scene have been blemished in some way, usually by the soprano of the evening fouling the high-C in “O patria mia.” 

Which brings me to the Nile Scene at the Metropolitan Opera on 29 November. When Lyudmyla Monastyrska managed to get past her aria without incident, I sighed with relief. The hex had been broken. No sooner had Alberto Mastromarino made his entrance as Amonasro, though, someone came running up the aisle from the front row of the orchestra, followed soon thereafter by a theater rep racing down the aisle with a walkie-talkie, pursued by an attendant ramrodding a wheelchair toward the front of the house. By the time Olga Borodina had played out her Gotcha! scene with Carl Tanner (substituting for Marco Berti), a gentleman who apparently had had some acute but non-fatal respiratory issues had been extracted from the middle of the front row, wheeled up the aisle and whisked off to the hospital. 

If only a spark of the electricity that informed the drama in the house during that Nile Scene had struck those on stage, this Aida might have had a chance of becoming memorable. Unfortunately, the Muse of Tedium had cast her soporific spell over the performance from the start. That sense of urgency and aliveness that once imbued even the most routine of Met performances was sadly absent. Yes, Fabio Luisi had the Met Orchestra playing in fine form, and the singers and chorus stepped promptly up to their cues, although both Monastyrska and Borodina were deep into the second act before their voices found them.  But the performance over all failed to quicken the pulse.

Monastyrska, by the way, has garnered some enthusiastic press for her Ethiopian princess.  She certainly has heft in the middle and upper registers, but she still needs to develop her way with the Verdi line. Stefan Kocán (Ramfis) and Miklós Sebestyèn (King) made sonorous contributions. The outstanding member of the cast was Carl Tanner, whose beefy tenor is both powerful and tractable. 

The evening was saved from listing by Sonja Frisell’s spectacular production from the last century. It is still a thrilling feast for the eye. I dread the day, when a Concept Cretin has his/her way with the opera. 

Aida will be performed live in HD on Saturday, 15 December.  Roberto Alagno is set to sing Radames. 


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