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02 April, 2010

Exemplary Aida at the Met: performance number 1113(!). Faulty scenery!

Aida Friday 26th March 2010 8pm. The Metropolitan Opera

Dear Colleagues,

My father (aged 83) and brother were in town from Australia for this Met performance with a new cast and conductor. We were fair bowled over by the incomparable quality and power of the show which was one of the high points of my opera-going experience. Chinese soprano Hui He made her Met debut and she proved to be a dramatic and vocal force to be reckoned with. She has done Turandot in Italy. The voice is large and well placed with an even production (happily there was no triumphal E flat attempted!). Her expressive diminuendos, portamento and soft high singing were exemplary. Not to be outdone, Salvatore Licitra sang the most creditable Radames I have heard in a long time. He sang Celeste Aida conquering the pianissimo ending which is written but which few tenors can manage. His dramatic portrayal was superb.

But perhaps the star of the night was Dolora Zajick (and some say the opera should be called ‘Amneris’). Her strong mezzo voice was again in evidence. Carlo Guelfi was also a fitting if slightly rough Ethiopian king.

Stefan Koc├ín was a suitable Pharaoh who leads the patriotic concerted piece ‘Su del Nilo’. As Ramfis Carlo Colombara was more than adequate.

Conductor Marco Armiliato kept the orchestra producing wonderful music at sympathetic paces. There is obviously chemistry happening in the pit unlike what happened on the La Traviata opening on Monday 29th March under Leonard Slatkin. On that night, as well as singers missing beats, I noted three brass players returning mid-act to miss a cue, an almost unforgivable lapse, like a sailor missing the boat.

Enough has been said and written about the magnificent Met Aida extravaganza directed by Sonja Frisell. All I can add is that despite their imposing nature the sets by Gianni Quaranta contain a major error. They all look well aged, despite the opera taking place in royal palaces and temples of one of the great waring dynasties (18th most likely). The columns, capitals, walls, hieroglyphics and other architectural detail each look just like the Egyptian items at the Metropolitan Museum. Yet in reality they would have been bright coloured and fresh, perhaps with gilding, lapis and ebony decoration. Of course we are all more familiar with the faded sepia tones, broken statues, incomplete cartouches, etc, so I am being picky.

I happened to spy Atlanta tenor Lawrence Brownlee in the foyer a few days ago. He had been supporting Met debut of colleague tenor Mr James Valenti. I complimented him on his excellent recent Met Almaviva and would eagerly await hearing (if not seeing live) the Armida with Ms Fleming. I said that I hoped he might come downunder some time as we were short of tenors … to which he replied that he had heard that our opera company no longer took overseas artists. Now I wonder where he could have heard that? Sadly it is largely true. This is 'small town', 'tall poppy' and ‘false economy’ syndrome all rolled into one. Many subscribers who have heard great opera in the past must seriously have reconsidered their expensive and poor quality opera-going experience. Contrary to their mission statement, much of it is not “opera” at all nowadays with musicals, G&S and experimental works dominating true opera. And the average prices in Sydney are far higher than the Met. ‘D’ reserve has disappeared and standing room is restricted by fire laws, thus losing an important cheap “gateway” for young people to learn about opera. *Shame* on opera management in Australia.

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..

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