Aida, Opera Holland Park, OHP, July 2015Posted on 5 July 2015
For the fourth performance on July 4, the orchestra under Manlio Benzi produced a thrilling and vivid account of Verdi’s score, helped by excellent singing and a colourful and imaginative production.
It starts with a black-tie cocktail party in a gallery of Egyptian antiquities, and director Daniel Slater takes a delightfully tongue-in-cheek attitude to Acts 1 and 2, with gorgeous costumes for the female chorus and super Egyptian designs by Robert Innes Hopkins. In that first half, before the drama evolves into a military and human tragedy, there is a touch of Monty Python, but why not — I loved it! And Maxine Braham’s choreography for the chorus, combining female sexiness and male aggression, is huge fun and extremely well executed. A terrific antidote to the poor chorus movements across town at Covent Garden in the much derided new production of William Tell.
At the end of Act I the opening of a glass cabinet to take out a suit of armour that magically appears on Radamès, now the leader of the army, was a small coup de theâtre. Just one of many delights in this production that only seemed to flag towards its tragic ending, but that is a problem with the opera more than anything else.
As Aida herself, Gweneth-Ann Jeffers gave a superb vocal performance, particularly in dramatic passages where she could sing everyone else off the stage, yet the entire cast worked superbly as a team. Peter Auty gave a fine account of Radamès, and Heather Shipp made an elegant and dramatically very effective Amneris, admirably human and not as nasty a piece of work as is sometimes portrayed. As Ramfis the high priest, the excellent Graeme Broadbent provided a mix of firmness and sneering superiority, and Keel Watson as the king made a weighty potentate with a strong voice. Amonasro, king of the Ethiopians was superbly portrayed by Jonathan Veira, hugely expressive in persuading his daughter Aida to help betray Radamès, and the role of the priestess in Act I was beautifully sung by Emily Blanch.
For sheer excitement, the first half of this opera demonstrates what a sizzling show Opera Holland Park can put on in the half-light of a summer evening. The chorus were magnificent, and the City of London Sinfonia under Manlio Benzi gave a memorably dramatic rendering of the score.
Performances continue on various dates until July 24 — for details click here.