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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Back to Egypt: The Met Telecast of Aida (2009 Edition)

Dolora Zajick and the Temple of Doom: Act III of Aida at the Met.

It's not every day that a major opera company gets to present a second video version of one of its signature prroductions, but that's just what is offered in this new video of Aida. Shot almost 20 years after its predecessor, "Aida II features a strong cast and a much-needed rethink of the opera's two Act II ballets by choreographer Alexei Ratmansky. It's not as good as the classic Domingo/Millo/Zajick/Milnes performance from 1990. However, the innovative direction by Gary Halvorson, who uses fearless camera angles and in-house cameras to give the viewer a fresh perspective on Verdi's Egyptian business, gives opera lovers and fans of this classic production the opportunity to see Aida in a whole new way.

Alexei Ratmansky's dances replace the embarrassing, dated choreography that used to stop Act II dead--twice. The dancer's motions are kinetic, tribal, and more naturalistic. This is a major breath of fresh air for this show. The cast is strong, led by the redoubtable South African tenor Johan Botha as Radames. He is well-matched with Violeta Urmana, a passionate Aida. The ex-mezzo floats some very nice notes in her two big arias and blends perfectly with the other singers. However, she is eclipsed by the Amneris of Dolora Zajick. The American mezzo has sung this role at the Met for 20 years, and her intelligence, musicality and sheer bitchiness are enough for her to walk away with the fourth act and give the best performance of the opera.

The three important low parts were a dissappointment. As Ramfis, Roberto Scandiuzzi sounded woolly and baritonal. Stefan Kocán's Pharoah wasn't much better. In the role of Amonasro, baritone Carlo Guelfi sounded high and pinched in the second act. But his Act III duet with Violeta Urmana is a highlight of the performance, and his voice swells to fullness as he warms up. The Met chorus and orchestra play at their usual high standards under Daniele Gatti, although his conducting lacks tht last degree of Verdian bang necessary to make this opera more than a pageant.

The high-definition picture picks up the dim reverentlial lighting of the temple scene, and small, charming details, like the fact that Radames' helmet is looking a little tarnished after being on the heads of tenors for almost two decades. And if you've ever wondered what the view is like from the Met catwalks, this DVD provides the answer. By placing the cameras where audience members could not possibly go, the directing team creates a fascinating viwewing experience. It's an impossible birds-eye angle--opera filmed by Google Earth.

Aida vs. Amneris: Urmana and Zajick square off.

Photo © 2009 Marc Stohl/Metropolitan Opera

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.