Aida - Royal Opera House, 19 March 2011
I feel sorry for anyone who hoped to hear Luisi conduct Aida and now won't, because on Saturday night he did a superb job. He never achieved the blood-and-guts, life-and-death heights that Pappano can - but then how many conductors do? We're extravagantly spoilt in that respect.
On every other count it was hard to fault him. The orchestra played with spirit and refinement, the singers were wonderfully supported, and Luisi held enough back to make the big moments tell - the third act climax was a heart-racing eruption. He took the music at face value and invested it with a colour and delicacy that belied the work's reputation. It sounded fresh and new.
And all that despite the godawful fugliness of David McVicar's production assailing his delicate aesthetic sensibilities at every turn (incidentally, he was correctly dressed from spiffy shirtstud to polished pump, and emerged without a single crease). What a champ.
Nice knowing ya Fabio, bye.
The singing was pretty good too, certainly an across-the-board improvement from last year. Poor Roberto Alagna wasn't in the best of health, cracking horribly on the final note of Celeste Aida. He slipped or falsettoed his way through the heights throughout, but reserved enough energy to blaze out thrillingly in a few short bursts. Still he deserves credit for going onstage without whining, doing his best, and not disappointing his many fans in the audience.
Liudmyla Monastyrska displayed the makings of a great Aida. The voice, dark, penetrating and rock-solid, is there already. A few lines of O patria mia were genuinely stirring, but mostly her expressive capabilities were matched more to music than text, making the dramatic effect oddly inert. And I only caught about five words all night. But considering how little rehearsal she must have had, it was a creditable showing that bodes well for her Lady Macbeth in May.
All the directorial effort, it seemed, was spent on the animated scenery provided by the bare-bewbed and blood-drenched background perfomers, whose commitment suggested they were auditioning for something far better. Olga Borodina, like the rest of the principals, was left to her own devices. Reverting to primeval type, she made a suitably imperious Amneris, though without that touch of tenderness that might have sparked her concern for Radames with real conviction. Apart from a slight lack of bloom at the top end, there's little wear on her magnificent voice. I have to congratulate her on fighting for the costume changes too - she cut a much more regal character than her predecessor.
Can I hope we've seen the back of this production?