Aida is probably not my most favourite opera, and I’ve since decided that perhaps all Verdi operas are not really my thing, but you could literally see anything on the outdoor stage they build specifically for Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour and it will still take your breath away.
Wow as always Sydney- you really do know how to put on a show ❤
Originally posted on The AU Review.
The giant weathered statue head of Neferiti looms over the sloped stage set against the backdrop of the darkening Sydney Harbour sky. There are sets of gleaming broken golden statues heaped on either side, lined with flags that flutter in the wind. It’s an impressive site, and the Opera hasn’t even begun yet.
Aida is a four act Italian opera by Giuseppe Verdi, based on a scenario from French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette (who eventually oversaw the initial set designs and costumes for the original production). It is set within the time period of the Old Kingdom and follows the enslaved Ethiopian princess Aida, who the Egyptians have captured. Radames is an Egyptian military commander who falls in love with the princess and struggles between this love and his loyalty to the Pharaoh. Our love triangle is complete with Amneris, the Pharaoh’s daughter, who is in unreciprocated love with the military commander. We watch as Radames hopes to win Aida’s hand through victory over her very own father (although this is unbeknownst to Radames). Aida is somewhat equally paralleled torn between her love for Radames and her homeland.
The spectacular Sydney Harbour couldn’t be more apart from the endless sands of Ancient Egypt, and yet the setting works. It is grand and breathtaking, as the sun sets upon our Ancient Egypt. The production itself is a blend of classical and modern Egypt- with both Gods and machine guns, which is all brought to life with magnificent lighting and the grandest sets.
The costumes used in the production are large, colourful and glitzy- with more than 2,000 individual items of jewellery and over 300 different costumes being used throughout the Opera. There is an interesting mix of the robes of an Ancient Egyptian High priest (complete with snake headdress), colourful Ethiopian garbs and strict military uniforms- all fitted to the impressive cast of an astounding 96 people. This is a variation that is never more evident than when our trio of leads harmonise together- with our awarded military official Radames, the bright and colourful Aida, and the imposing glittering daughter of the Pharoh.
Our Aida (Latonia Moore) is nothing short of breathtaking- with a clear and captivating voice that hits all of the right emotions of her torn character. Amneris (Milijana Nikolic) is so equally as impressive- a character who is imposing and yet tragically tormented. She is a Pharoh’s daughter of both force and fragility, with a voice that is simply spectacular. When she appears in the broken eye of Neferiti near the Opera’s dramatic conclusion the audience can’t seem to tear their eyes away from her beautiful silhouette.
The force of the rivalry between the two female leads is the most interesting relationship of the Opera for me, and these two women project both of their characters in their strongest light. The romantic interest is of course engaging (with Walter Fraccaro as a romantically adamant Radames), but these two woman have their audience so drawn into their characters that you feel their desperate aching and cry for their desolate fate.
The most famous piece “The Triumphal March” is so large and glorious over the harbour. It’s bold and brassy tune soars over the crowd celebrating victory triumphant. Another clear standout was the magnificence prayer sequence- “Oh Mighty Phtha”, with dancing tribute to Anubis. The High Priest Ramfis (David Parkin) ruled over this splendour, a striking figure cut with a most commanding voice. And then there is the tragic end, as the lovers fade away beneath the earth and the orchestra grows ever dimmer- everything softly fading into oblivion in the “ecstasy of eternal love”.
This is a splendid, dazzlingly visual experience for anyone to appreciate. The Opera is accessible, the cast is impressive and more than anything else- the staging is just so mesmerising. Watching Aida at this outdoor theatre of Sydney Harbour, as the sun sets and the stars blink into the darkening sky, is certainly an experience that will have you singing the praises of this wonderful country (just as our Aida sings longingly of hers).