KPAC blog: Saturday at the Met
11:03 am
Thu December 13, 2012

The Met Stage Is Full Of Egypt With Verdi's Spectacle, 'Aida'

There are so many genres of opera. There are the exquisite chamber operas that are close to plays like Strauss’ "Capriccio" of Gluck’s chamber operas. There are the operas of morality or ideology like Beethoven’s "Fidelio" or Mozart’s "Idomeneo." Some works highlight verismos raw emotions and atonal expressionism, decadent excesses like Berg’s "Lulu" or the opera of scandal, like "Salome" and the late romantic opera as epic poetry, "The Ring." The list goes on and on.

Opera has something for everybody, but for the greater public there isn't anything quite like opera as spectacle. The curtain rises and before a note is sung we hear the gasps from the audience at the scale, luxury and sheer grandeur of the pageant laid out before us. The historical drama of epic scale with its costumes, archaic or imaginary dances, historical and/or mythological figures, vast and exotic architecture, fauna and flora and evocative vocals is like Cecil B. De Mille for the musical theatre. It is perhaps also the most salient intersection of opera and cinema.

If ever there was a model of this genre it is Verdi’s "Aida."

The work began as a commission from the Khedive of Egypt for Verdi to write something for the opening of the Suez Canal; the composer at first declined. It was only later that Verdi was presented with the spectacle of Aida. We are shown vast palaces, pyramids, courtiers, priests to enact long lost religious ceremonies, beautiful gardens and sometimes camels and elephants depending on the venue. The clash of classes, civilizations, romantic rivalries, battle scenes, a barge floating up the Nile and even an entombment. The center of all this is a romantic triangle which is taken beyond war to a personal vendetta. The vocal writing fits the larger than life scale, and all the principals are given some of the most memorable music ever written: For Radamès there is "Celeste Aida," for Aida "Ritorna Vincitor," and for Amneris "Fu la sorte dell’armi."

Watch Liudmyla Monastyrska sing "I sacri nomi di padre, d'amante"

In the climax, the great love duet as irony is piled on -- literally to the opera's closing bars. In an attempt to separate Aida and Radamès, the two lovers, the scorned Amneris has her ex-lover sentenced by a religious tribunal and buried alive only to discover that Aida has joined him and they are now united forever.

The Metropolitan Opera's unforgettable production of Verdi’s ancient Egyptian drama stars Liudmyla Monastyrska and Hui He. They share the title role of the enslaved Ethiopian princess caught in a love triangle with the heroic Radamès, played by Carl Tanner and Roberto Alagna, and the proud Egyptian princess Amneris, sung by Dolora Zajick and Olga Borodina. Fabio Luisi conducts this revival, which features recent choreography by Alexei Ratmansky.

Join us this Saturday at Noon for the live performance of Giuseppe Verdi's "Aida" by the Metropolitan Opera. Hear it on KPAC and KTXI.