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‘Aida’ returns to the Met

Nestor MataNEW YORK – When Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida with its magnificent spectacle and intimate but tragic love story returned to the Metropolitan Opera last week, it was greeted with rousing ovation.

The Met assembled a cast of powerful voices to match the epic scale of the operatic opus. Violeta Urmana, a Lithuanian-born soprano, starred in the title role of the Ethiopian princess, with mezzo soprano Dotora Zajick as Amneris, daughter of the Egyptian king and rival of Aida for the affections of tenor John Botha as Radames, the Egyptian warrior.

The new production of Aida by Sonja Frisell was indeed grand. It represented the Met mainstream of recent decades- grandiose and pictorial. The stage, with its outsize sets, was populated by throngs, dancers, brass players, choristers, extras, even a few horses. It was unlike the heavily conceptual staging by the avant garde producer Luc Bondy, who was raucously booed by the Met goers, of Puccini’s Tosca that opened the 2009-2010 season of the Met last month.

The Aida cast of singers was rewarded by incessant applause and standing ovations, particularly Urmana and Botha, who were well-matched in their leading roles. Both were able to summon great power and ease off to sometimes breath-taking effect.
Like others in the audience, my daughter Joy and I breathlessly watched and listened to Ms. Urmana when she delivered gorgeous pianissimos in singing her solo arias (O Patria mia) and in her duets with Botha ( Fu la sorte dell’armi, Pur ti riveggo, ma dolce Aida and Terra addio).

In the first act, Botha sang Celeste Aida so superbly, his voice ascending from F to high B flat dying away in pianissimo, as he expressed his love for Aida. A few times during the performance, however, both Urmana and Botha sounded a bit hard and constricted in the loud, high notes.

Dolora Zajick was a powerhouse as Amneris, especially in the last act, in which she sang out strongly and affectingly, but she seemed underpowered in her lower range at the start.

Carlo Guelfi as Amonasro, the captive Ethiopian king and father of Aida was a sonorous baritone.
Roberto Scandiuzzi as Ramfis, the high priest, was an imposing bass, but he was occasionally vague in pitch. Stefan Kocan, bass baritone, was quite solid as the Pharaoh and father of Amneris.

One of the Aida revival’s livelier attractions was the colorful choreography in the dance numbers, and the Met chorus was as much a star as the orchestra, stunning in its quiet a cappella singing.

Daniele Gatti, who wielded the baton, drew engaged and expressive playing from the orchestra, and gave the singers ample freedom and coordinated the heavy musical traffic to good effect.

Urmana is now recognized as one of the leading sopranos in the Italian dramatic genre. She has played, apart from Aida, Tosca in Puccini’s Tosca, Maddalena in Giordano’s Andre Chenier, Lady Macbeth in Verdi’s Macbeth, Isolde in Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, Leonora in Verdi’s La Forza del Destino, and many other operatic heroines.

Botha is one of the leading tenors of his generation. He regularly appears with the Met opera in New York and the Vienna State Opera, where his repertoire includes Aida, Tosca, Daphne, Cavalleria Rusticana,” Don Carlo, Fidelio, Lohengrin, Die Meistersinger, and Parsifal. Verdi’s Aida is about Aida, an Ethiopian princess who was captured and brought into slavery in ancient Egypt. Radames, Captain of the Royal Guards, struggles to choose between his love for her and his loyalty to the Pharaoh. To complicate the story further, he is loved by the Pharaoh’s daughter Amneris, although he does not return the feeling.

Just like most operas, Aida ends tragically. Radames and Aida are both buried alive in a vault where they express their love for the last time in a duet (O terra addio), while Amneris prayed for the soul of Radames in a temple above.

The opera, in four acts, lasted three hours and 31 minutes in its return to the Metropolitan Opera last week. It was first performed in a world premiere at the Cairo Opera House on December 24, 1871.

*****
Lunch at Le Cirque’. While walking in Manhattan mid-town, I saw the sign Le Cirque at 151 East 58th Street between Third and Lexington Avenues.

Hey, I told my daughter Joy and Linda, this is where Gloria A and her large entourage indulged in a Bacchanalian feast!”
We took a peek inside, entered the plush French restaurant, and were quickly ushered by the maitre’d to a table at the Wine Lounge. A tall, well-attired waitress came, showed us the Restaurant Week lunch menu and poured bottled Fuji water in our glasses.
Our lunch consisted of Le Cirque Salad and Crispy Calamari for appetizers, followed by the main course of Red Wine Braised Short Ribs”, and finally Crème Brulee, Cheese Cake, and a selection of miniature desserts.

We also had a glass of Australian Chiraz Cabernet. No, not the very expensive French red wine with escargot and caviar that Gloria’s fellow feasters had for dinner at the Le Cirque’s dining room last August. That dinner cost $20,000, according to a gossip columnist of the New York Post. Our lunch cost $48.

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