Aida, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, Sept 2017

This brand new Aida from Phelim McDermott, whose stunning Akhnaten for the ENO in 2016 won the Olivier Award earlier this year, showed once again some spectacular theatre aided by the Improbable company.

All images ENO/ Tristram Kenton

It all started with great subtlety as the curtain peeped open, at first showing just a small triangle of light at the base, widening almost imperceptibly to reveal a foreign world of strangely monumental set designs (Tom Pye), mixed costumes (Kevin Pollard), and terrific lighting by Bruno Poet. Costumes for the Egyptian priests were reminiscent of Orangemen without the sashes, as coffins draped with flags were carried in, yet this ultra conservative milieu was also filled with acrobats, a squad of female soldiers and cabaret transvestites. Strange place, this Egypt, imbued with the mysteries of ancient rites, but cold and unforgiving.

Aida and her father Amonasro

The contrast with the scene in Act III between Aida and her father, the captured Ethiopian King Amonasro, is striking. Warm lighting and warm singing between these dark skinned non-Egyptians, with African bass-baritone Musa Ngqungwana a hugely sympathetic Amonasro, and African-American soprano Latonia Moore a truly wonderful Aida. Her emotional vigour and compelling stage presence gave enormous punch to a performance that was otherwise lacking in these qualities from the other principals: the once-strong mezzo Michelle DeYoung as an Amneris (not helped by the frightful first costume) who seemed uncomfortable singing the role in English, Matthew Best as the Egyptian King, Robert Winslade Anderson as a nobly sung Ramfis, and Gwyn Hughes Jones as a strong Radames, who delivered a nicely phrased Celeste Aida at the start but never quite inhabited the role.

Radames, Amneris, Aida

This was very much Aida’s evening, and the ENO has struck gold in bringing Ms Moore to London for her ENO debut, after singing the role at the Met in New York, and Covent Garden too (in April 2011). In the Act I trio with Radames and Amneris her power and emotional spontaneity swept them both off the stage. In smaller roles, David Webb sang a very clear Messenger, and Eleanor Dennis an excellent High Priestess, with superb work from the chorus and thrilling conducting under the sensitive baton of Keri-Lynn Wilson.

Radames and Aida

This production, though slightly overloaded with ideas, will doubtless be a keeper, and I loved the dance with silks. The final moments of entombment for Radames and Aida in a square section of an otherwise dark stage, was suddenly complemented by a higher square to one side for Amneris, recalling the production’s starting point where we glimpsed into a foreign world of inclusion and exclusion.

Performances continue on various dates until Dec 2 — for details click here.

3 Responses to “Aida, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, Sept 2017”

  1. Martin says:

    Just seen the Oct 6th evening performance – your review is exactly right – Aida is terrific – worth the price of admission as they say, all on her own – I can’t imagine who thought Amneris looked anything but overweight in the opening gown – strangely awful and her voice was thin and the English awful (like listening to somebody singing down a 10ft plastic pipe – ghastly) but she warmed up to offscale terrific by the last 25% (still ghastly English) and the trio at the end was breathtaking. The tumblers? Should have been cut leaving just the silks which was wonderful. The production just has too many small insignificant but distracting details. My take anyway.

  2. Tom Uprichard says:

    Radames? Thin voiced and sounded strained. Amneris? Looked pregnant in her first half dress, and sang her big numbers facing the audience rather than the character she was addressing. She had the most peculiar diction too. Apart from Radames, all the other male singers were pretty good. Aida sang everybody else off the stage, but it was a pity that she was so small in stature; I’d love to have seen Angel Blue in that role. The evening did seem to go on too long, but that was largely Verdi’s fault. He could have cut a hefty chunk out of the score without short-changing the audience. Distracting gymnastics – would anybody fall down in the human balancing acts.

    • J Brand says:

      I saw the last performance of this first cast – and it was one of the finest I’ve heard since my first in 1955. Michelle de Young has been a very distinguished singer delighting the public for many years. All singers age and lose their original freshness – but not their musicality. And in the circumstances she presented a more vulnerable Amneris which was very refreshing and she certainly rose to the heights in her great final scene. Latonia Moore was indeed superb – as was Gwyn Hughes-Jones whose singing of Radames was quite outstanding obeying all Verdi’s requirements of which the majority of tenors who sing this role tend to ignore. This was among the finest sung performances of this technically difficult part I’ve heard since Jon Vickers in the 1950s and 1960s.
      As for the production, not perfect, but finer than countless other productions I’ve seen in the last 30/40 years. You’d have to go back to the 1960s for a decent production at Covent Garden.

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