Ellen Kent Opera Company make their final performance of three nights at The Playhouse in Edinburgh this year with their production of “Aida”. The other two performances in these one night only performances of three operas over three nights were “La Boheme” and “Nabucco”.
Aida is considered by many to be Verdi’s masterpiece and since its initial performance in 1871 (delayed by a few factors for a few years), it has always retained its initial success with the public and is one of the world’s favourite operas. With a combination of inspired music and a story that has some real depth to its principal characters, it’s easy to understand why Aida is as popular now as it ever was.
On the face of it, our story is one of two warring kingdoms (Egypt and Ethiopia) and their rulers – The King of Egypt/Pharaoh (Oleksandr Forkushak) and Amonasro, King of Ethiopia (Iurie Gisca), but at its core is the story of a classic love triangle between Radames, Captain of the Egyptian Guard (Giorgio Meladze), Amneris, Princess of Egypt (Zarui Vardanean) and our title character Aida (Olga Perrier), an Ethiopian slave girl (and unknown to any in Egypt, an Ethiopian Princess).
Aida is a musical masterpiece, but an historical fantasy land so typical of how 19th century Europeans viewed how the ancient world might have looked and behaved, and here we are set in no specific Egyptian time period, and this has probably helped set and costume designers so much over the years as the overall visual effects only need to look generically of an ancient Egyptian era. This is not a problem at all, this is Opera telling a story, and the core elements are very European – this is not an historical period re-creation.
Some of opera’s most classic arias are here including “Celeste Aida” and “Ritorna Vincitor”. Probably one of the most familiar works to many (and my favourite) will be the classic “Triumphal March”.
There are classic set pieces here for all of our principals, and as usual with any Ellen Kent production, they are all well performed musically, and with classic “operatic drama”. I was pleasantly surprised that Olga Perrier was performing the role of Aida tonight after last night’s performance as Abigaille in “Nabucco” and the very challenging demands that that role places upon any singer. For many singers a night off resting their voice would probably have been needed, but Olga delivered a very strong performance here as Aida too.
Aida as a story also allowed Giorgio Meladze as Radames and Zarui Vardanean as Amneris to expand their vocal talents with solid performances throughout the evening. As always, Iurie Gisca brought solid vocals and stage presence to his role of King Amonasro, and Oleksandr Forkushak as King of Egypt provided a good opponent to Amonasro (even if the role itself does not allow him much movement for dramatic flair). Not to be overlooked either, Olga Rusnac as High Priestess and Vadym Chernihovskyi as Ramfis, High Priest.
If there is any weak point in the production here, it is one common with many operas and that is that the music takes precedence over the dramatics. For a classic love triangle story of true love until death and the vengeance of a spurned woman, there is limited emotional evidence of that relationship between our three principal characters on stage. This though after all is a “traditional opera” and it is only in more recent years that we have expected our operatic performers to be great dramatic performers (outside of the drama of the music and songs themselves) as well as great singers…everything here is in the music, and perhaps that is the way it should always be.
As with last night’s performance, special note has to go to conductor Vasyl Vasylenko and the orchestra.
Set-wise everything was impressive for a touring company. Costumes have at times obvious budget restraints, but any touring Ellen Kent production does exactly what it promises to do – bring a traditional production of classic operas to the stage and with higher production values than many would expect from a company with such a heavy touring schedule. This company works very hard and brings opera to many places that see limited (if any) tours from other companies, and those facts alone have to be taken into account when reviewing any Ellen Kent production.
Aida, judging from the audience applause, is as popular with the Playhouse Edinburgh audience as it is with many other audiences worldwide.
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To read our review of Ellen Kent's Nabucco click here
Review by Tom King