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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Aida

A new singer debuts in Verdi's grandest opera. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Met ballet corps gets one last dance in Aida.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2018 the Metropolitan Opera.
Verdi's "Egyptian business" complete with a huge chorus and...Kristin Lewis? The soprano takes over the first run of dates of this revival. This is your last chance to experience the worn but  treasured Sonja Frisell production, which is due for replacement in a new production by Michael Mayer. He's the Broadway director who set Rigoletto in a Vegas casino. We here at Superconductor wonder if his new staging will be set at the Sands, the Sahara or the Desert Inn?
What is Aida
Aida stands at the very end of of Verdi's career as a "regular" working composer, coming right before the long retirement of the 1870s. (That  silence that was ended with the 1881 revision of Simon Boccanegra and the subsequent success of Otello.) In its four acts, Verdi created a very Italian version of Grand Opera, combining onstage spectacle with a small, tender story about a love triangle and two countries locked in a violent (and ultimately pointless) war. Oh and did we mention it's set in Egypt?

What's Aida about? 
Amneris, the daughter of the Egyptian pharoah, loves the army's general Radames. Unbeknownst to everyone (except the audience!) he is secretly in love with the slave Aida. And to make things even more interesting, Aida is the daughter of Amonasro, the king of Ethiopia and Radames' formidable opponent in battle. Everything comes to a head when Amonasro is captured, and persuades Aida to get Radames to betray the Egyptian army. Radames is arrested and sentenced to entombment. Aida hides in the tomb, and the opera ends with the lovers literally running out of air as Amneris, kneeling in the temple prays for peace.

Why should I go see Aida
There are two types of people who go see Aida at the Met every couple of years. One, is the new opera goer who has tickets for a grand night out and wants to experience the spectacle of the exhibits in the "other Met" (the museum across Central Park) coming to vivid life thanks to the heroic efforts of the Met costume, set and prop departments. The other is the veteran opera lover who keeps coming back to Verdi's sweet melodies, rousing choruses and deeply serious meditation on the futility of war between nations. This is one of his crowning achievements, a grand opera in the old style that managed to break new ground at the same time.

Who's in it?
The winter cast is led by Kristin Lewis and later, Sondra Radvanovsky. For the winter performances, Dolora Zajick, who has owned the role of Amneris for thirty years, sings it one more time. Their tenoris the reliable Yonghoon Lee. The performances will be conducted by Nicola Luisotti and Placido Domingo.

How's the production? 
This staging has been a stalwart at the Met since it made its debut way back in 1989. (I was there.) It combines imposing trompe l'oeil sets, all-white costumes and clever lighting to create the illusion that the vast Met stage is the even bigger canvas of Ancient Egypt at its height. Thanks to the requirements of Live in HD there have been a few changes made here and there (the priests now wear white helmets instead of the old bald-caps) but for the most part it hasn't changed much. This is a good "starter" opera for anyone, and a fun one to take your friends to just to watch their eyes pop at the start of the Act II Triumphal March.

When does the show open? 
The first performance of Aida this season is Sept. 26. The winter run starts Jan. 7 with an all-new cast and conductor.

Where do I get tickets? 
Tickets are available through MetOpera.Org or by calling the box office at (212) 362-6000. You can save service fees by going to the box office in person at the Met itself, located at 30 Lincoln Center Plaza. Hours: Monday to Saturday: 10am-8pm, Sunday: 12pm-6pm.

Recording Recommendations:
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