Hull City Hall – 7th June 2019
Reviewed by Catherine McWilliams
Opera North’s concert staging of Aida filled Hull City Hall with glorious music, emotion and sublime storytelling. This was a large scale performance with over 90 musicians on stage in the orchestra and a chorus of 60 and yet the production was so intimate that you felt every nuance of emotion with the singers.
Aida is a tale of love, set against the backdrop of war. Radames (Rafael Rojas) is a Captain in the Egyptian Army and is in love with Aida (Alexandra Zabala) an Ethiopian Slave, but Egypt is at war with Ethiopia. To add further complication Amneris (Alessandra Volpe), an Egyptian Princess is also in love with Radames and Aida is also an Ethiopian Princess. When Aida’s father Amonasro (Eric Greene) is captured he persuades Aida to find out secrets of battle from Radames, which leads to tragedy.
Director Annabel Arden and conductor Sir Richard Armstrong have produced a magnificent piece, the singers inhabiting the very front of the stage with the orchestra and chorus behind them. There is a limited space available for the singers but this adds to the intimacy of the experience. The orchestra is quite simply superb and the chorus magnificent, at one point the unaccompanied singing of the chorus gave me goosebumps. The music at times filled the City Hall and at other times it would have been possible to hear a pin drop, providing mood, light and shade and colour, this is a performance to be felt as well as listened to.
The singers were sublime, their voices soaring, becoming their character with every ounce of their body and drawing the audience in feeling their passions and sorrows with them. Each playing their part and interacting to make the audience feel this was real, the emotion poured off the stage. The limited props were so very effective as was the backdrop with projections of war zones.
Alexandra Zabala is outstanding as Aida, her voice is stunning and the subtitles were not needed to show how she was feeling or what was happening. She had a wonderful connection with Rafael Rojas (Radames) and an equally tortured one with Alessandra Volpe (Amneris).
Rafael Rojas made a wonderful Radames, torn between his love for Aida and his love for his country, his horror at his betrayal of his country was palpable. His voice was wonderful and his duets with Alexandra Zabala were beautiful, the final duet simply heartbreaking.
Alessandra Volpe as Amneris was in turns coquettish, loving, angry and despairing and oh so believable, she breathed her character and we felt it all with her. Her voice is simply superb.
Eric Greene made a wonderful Amonasro, it was so clear he loved his country with a passion but his daughter equally so. His duet with Alexandra Zabala when he was persuading her to find out the secrets of battle was superb, the emotion as he argued for his country unbelievable.
This is a review by someone who is not an opera goer and who was worried that this would be just singers in front of an orchestra – how wrong can you be. It was going to be in Italian too, but it turned out that that didn’t matter a jot, there were some subtitles but the sheer brilliance of the singers meant that it was clear what was happening and how they were feeling.
This is an intimate experience, an emotional experience, full of powerful magnificent music, voices blending and soaring and of tragedy, a tragedy that left me a wrung out wreck! Absolutely amazing.
Catch this performance if you can, I am now going to see when I can see an Opera North performance again.