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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Aida – Hui He
Radamès – Fabio Sartori
Amneris – Giovanna Casolla
Amonasro – Ambrogio Maestri
Ramfis – Adrian Sampetrean
King – Roberto Tagliavini
Orchestra, Coro, Corpo di Ballo dell’Arena di Verona/Omer Meir Wellber
Stage direction: La Fura dels Baus, Carlus Pedrissa, Àlex Ollé
rec. live, Arena di Verona, June 2013
Region Code: 0; Aspect Ratio 16:9; LPCM Stereo; DD 5.1

This Aida is quite fun in places, but shouldn’t be taken at all seriously by anyone. It’s the Verona Arena’s contribution to the Verdi bicentenary and also, conveniently, the centenary of the Verona opera festival itself. Some bright spark had the idea of inviting Spain’s La Fura dels Baus to direct Verona’s showpiece opera. I say bright spark, because La Fura have already established an impressive reputation for the physicality of their productions, most notably the Valencia Ring, which I really enjoyed. They’re partly dancers, partly acrobats, partly physical actors, and they bring some impressive things to this Verona show. That said, much of it seems tokenistic, unsure of itself or, sometimes, just a bit naff.

The biggest successes come in the scene of the temple of Ptha, with some beautiful aerial dancing and good use of light balls, including a big procession through the audience to convey the scale of the event. In the preceding scene they also set actors holding flaming hieroglyphs around the uppermost rim of the arena, to pleasing effect. I enjoyed little touches in the Nile act, such as the crocodiles or the waving grass. They also build an impressive mirror wall during the triumph scene which eventually transforms into the roof of Aida and Radames’ tomb as it slowly descends on them. In other places, though, their approach is a bit hackneyed. The triumphal scene has the four powerful characters being pushed around on platforms, which put me in mind of the gods in Rheingold, and their use of model camels and elephants is a not altogether successful attempt to look at the stereotype from a witty sideways angle. Don’t ask me why they were slithering down the benches during the opening scene of Act 4, nor why their costumes are a mix of Ancient Egypt and Buck Rogers.

The singers are given ample opportunities to stand and deliver, and some do it rather well. Hui He makes a pretty good fist of Aida, and even manages some impressive pianissimo notes at the end of both O Patria Mia and the final duet. Fabio Sartori does his best foghorn impression as he bellows away at Radames, and hits most of the notes. Giovanna Casolla is a histrionic Amneris, however, and she looks old enough to be everybody’s mother. The three basses are very good, though, especially Ambrogio Maestri’s impressive Amonasro, and both Ramfis and the King boom away convincingly. The orchestra and chorus sound good and, technically speaking, BelAir have done a brilliant job of capturing the surround sound, using all six speakers very impressively indeed.

The camera work is infuriating, though, clearly done by a hyperactive director who assumes that the rest of us have as short an attention span as he. The picture keeps cutting away from what is happening on stage to give us images that are superfluous and distracting, be it the conductor, the audience, even an audience member holding a candle, all in the midst of the music itself. Furthermore, they had clearly paid a lot for the crane to hold their camera over the audience, because they cut to it incessantly.

No-one seriously searching for an Aida on DVD will turn to this one ahead of the blockbusters from the Met and La Scala: the Zeffirelli one that Alagna walked out of. In some ways, though, I guess this DVD sums up a lot of the Verona experience. You don’t go there to see powerful music drama: you go for a fun night out and the experience of one of opera’s most distinctive — and, in my experience, downright uncomfortable — venues. If the music is good, then hooray but so much militates against that — the weather, the scale, the crowd, the distance — that you can hardly get too bothered about it. You can’t really criticise the singers for their utterly wooden delivery, nor the fact that Omer Meir Wellber’s only method of conducting is to thrash his arms around as wildly as possible: both are probably utterly necessary in the context. As I said, quite fun, but not to be taken seriously.

Simon Thompson