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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 © 2018 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Opera Review: The Final Stand of the Old Kingdom

The Met revives the Sonja Frisell Aida (probably) for the last time.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Dolora Zajick (kneeling) begs for mercy in Act IV of Verdi's Aida.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2019 The Metropolitan Opera.

Everything ends, even in the world of opera. On Monday night, the Metropolitan Opera opened what is most likely the final run of its thirty-year-old production of Verdi's Aida. (A new staging by Michael Mayer is planned for Opening Night in 2020.) This revival features a new Aida, the house debut of American soprano Kristin Lewis who has sung the role with some success in Vienna and Naples. Opposite her was tenor Yonghoon Lee and mezzo Dolora Zajick, who has been singing the role of the Egyptian princess Amneris in this same staging for thirty seasons.


Ms. Lewis was announced as the house's new Aida following a partial cancellation by Sondra Radvanovsky, who will be back to sing the remainder of performances in February. She is a lovely and graceful figure, but took an act before she settled into this role. "Ritorna vincitar" had some lovely moments but swam with vocal inconsistencies, and her characterization of the enslaved Ethiopian princess was one of confusion and despair. The same emotions held sway in the second act, though her singing, particularly in the big confrontation with Dolora Zajick's Amneris, improved somewhat.

Her promise began to show in "O patria mia," the big recital favorite that has caused many a princess to die by the banks of the Nile. Here was the full package, a voice hovering between lyric and spinto, capable of riding over the big orchestra and engaging in the big duo and trio that rings down the third act. In the tomb scene, she found some lovely ethereal notes and was singing in the right place on the big stage as she and Radames slowly ran out of air.

As Radames, the hormone-fuelled Egyptian general who might be the most moronic of all Verdi heroes, tenor Yonghoon Lee delivered mixed results. He was all bravado in the early acts, rolling out a ringing head voice that was on or close to pitch but had no subtlety whatsoever. His acting needs work too: the shocked double-take in Act III when Amonasro reveals himself should not draw laughs. The singer breathed fire in Act IV in his big scene with Amneris, and this wearying performance came to a strong end in the Tomb Scene.

Dolora Zajick is now 68, and she has sung Amneris in this staging for thirty years. The voice is not as lovely or plummy as it once was but she is still a fearsome Princess, determined to hold on to Radames and domineering in all her scenes. The only exception is the fourth act, where she showed real anger and desperation as the order of priests ordered Radames' death. Here, her rage cut through chorus and orchestra in the grand old-fashioned style, and the two guttering torches on the stage paled by comparison.

Amonasro was baritone Roberto Frontali, who brought a smallish, woody voice and little personality to the part of Aida's father. His tendency to keep popping back onstage to prompt Aida in the third act was unintentionally funny. Vitalij Kowaljow was a dour Ramfis (the high priest) and Soloman Howard a dark and effective King. In his house debut, substitute tenor Kevin Ray was effective in the short role of the Messenger, a part that sometimes leads to bigger and better things.

In the pit, Nicola Luisotti led a strange performance, lacking the edge and fire that the Temple of Vulcan needs to properly ignite He was helped y an orchestra and chorus that have played this opera so many times that they can do it on easy and gentle autopilot. The staging, with its sandstone facades and preference for white, gold and blue costumes still looks good, although the skittish horses in the Act II triumph scene were fidgety and moving about. They looked like they would rather be doing anything other than pulling Radames' chariot.

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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.