Aida. A power struggle story both romantically and politically. Opera Australia’s latest production of Giuseppe Verdi’s masterpiece is both larger than life and incredibly ambitious. Staged at Arts Centre Melbourne’s State Theatre, despite the international borders being closed due to Covid restrictions, you really feel like you’ve travelled to Egypt when watching Aida. And not just Egypt, but Ancient Egypt.
Aida (the show) predominantly follows the lives of three characters: Radamès (Stefano La Colla), an Egyptian war captain, Amneris (Elena Gabouri), the beautiful Egyptian princess, and finally Aida (Leah Crocetto), a humble Ethiopian slave woman.
The celebrated captain is offered the prize of having Princess Amneris’ hand in marriage after his troops are victorious in battle, however, Radamès is already in love with the princess’ slave handmaiden, Aida. What’s worse is, despite Radamès’ apparent undying love for Aida, and both women intoxicated with desire for him, it is surprisingly Radamès’ country that the captain cherishes and prioritises the most. When his romantic notions betray his ambitious patriotic beliefs – chaos ensues.
Witnessing Opera Australia’s Aida is like seeing a combination of a soap opera and an old Hollywood film unfold live before your eyes, but fuelled with arias. This can only be a good thing. Verdi’s ‘Triumphal March’ is one of the world’s most recognised classical pieces and is performed in this production beautifully. Accompanied by Orchestra Victoria, the cast of Opera Australia sound phenomenal. Although, if I had to choose a stand-out, it would be Alexander Vinogradov who shines as Egyptian high priest Ramfis, specifically in one particular scene where you hear his voice alone, unaccompanied by music, as he chants Radamès’ name when the captain is on trial for treason.
The reason I stated that this production is incredibly ambitious, is because of its ten towering digital screens used to create the ever-changing sets. Accompanied with brilliant costuming by Gianluca Falaschi, the screen sets showcase content by entertainment and design company D-Wok, with various visuals from dramatic symbolism to picturesque moving landscapes. While imaginative and impressive with the use of the screens making the décor look convincingly shiny and gold, some displays were not necessary, such as the giant black jaguar which was shown (in the context of things) for no real reason.
The screens also distract you from the performer on stage. I often found myself looking at the screens, mesmerised by the moving displays, when I really should have been looking at the performers instead. At a certain point of the production, the lighting from the screens is even a bit apprehensive. It isn’t a deal breaker though, and I must commend Opera Australia for being courageous in taking this digital leap forward.
For the most part, Opera Australia’s Aida, conducted by Tahu Matheson, created by Davide Livermore and directed Shane Placentino, is a dynamic beast that is bold, brave, unapologetic and powerful. Every character is flawed, the story, while extremely tragic – is intensely mesmerising, the music is wonderous and this production will have you thinking about it long after you’ve left the theatre.
Opera Australia’s production of Aida is now playing at Art Centre Melbourne’s State Theatre until May 21.
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Photography by Jeff Busby.