Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Monday 21st November, 2016
Producer and director Ellen Kent is renowned for the lavish spectacle of her productions, yet this new staging of Verdi’s grandest opera seems somewhat scaled down. A versatile, almost Romanesque set serves as the backdrop for each scene, and from the overture, the presence of stone walls is prominent, foreshadowing the tragic fate of the lovers. (Spoiler: they get walled into a tomb, buried alive!)
As the prisoner/slave Aida, Olga Perrier sparkles. Many of this production’s highlights are her solo arias, just Perrier in a spotlight, emoting her head off. Similarly, Liza Kadelnik shines as the scheming Princess Amneris, suitably evil and cruel, although in her scenes with Perrier, the acting seems more mannered and more like melodramatic, silent-movie posturing. In fact, the whole production style seems like a throwback – the show feels more like a reconstruction than a new staging.
There is strong, authoritative singing from baritones Vadym Chernihovskyi as High Priest Ramfis, and Oleksandr Forkushak as the Egyptian King. Iurie Gisca makes a powerful impression as Amonasro, Aida’s cross and vengeful dad, but for me, the standout performance comes from handsome teno Giorgi Meladze as the heroic Radames. Meladze’s singing is robust and stirring – and he has a nice pair of legs!
The cast is augmented by extras from Theatre Workshop Birmingham and elsewhere, and while the choral singing is rather good, the acting leaves something to be desired. Some of them look fed up or at a loss. Standard bearers trudge across the stage as if they’re on their way to the job centre rather than taking part in a triumphal parade. I applaud the involvement of local groups and appreciate the pressures but there is a sense that this bunch are under-rehearsed.
That being said, this is still an evening of superb singing. The leads are all magnificent and Verdi’s score, under the baton of Vasyl Vasylenko, is unassailable, rousing and glorious.