Aida, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, Sept 2017Posted on 29 September 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.