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Review: Aida at the Liverpool Empire

Seeing this magnificent show live on stage should be an overwhelming experience. With its professional opera singers, lavish stage-sets, sumptuous costumes and above all the inspiring music of Verdi, it should always be a sure-fire winner but unfortunately, that assumption on the night, was somewhat undermined by too many unnecessary distractions caused by trying too hard to please the public.

The tentative opening strains of the thin-sounding orchestra, heralded that not everything on the night was going to please and the play did seem to progress with some jittering uncertainty mainly attributed to the gulf in talent between the professional operatic singers and the enthusiastic but less experienced young dance performers.

Just in case you are unfamiliar with this opera, Aida, the titular heroine, is an Ethiopian princess who has been captured and enslaved by her enemy, the ancient Egyptians. She serves Amneris, Princess of Egypt. In true Romeo and Juliet fashion, she falls in love with her country’s enemy, Radames, who is passionate to gain glory by leading an attack against the Ethiopians.

He returns Aida’s love but the selfish princess Amneris also wants Radames and will do anything in her power to win him over. With love, betrayal and revenge on the menu, all against the backdrop of war, the opera cannot fail to please, can it?

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The operatic singing was in the main excellent even though some of the choral balance of the ensemble singing seemed less secure. Soprano Olga Perrier (Aida) performed with sensitivity and great vocal expression. The emotion in her voice and characterization was heartfelt and convincing. The same could also be said of baritone Iurie Gisca (Amonasro- King of Ethiopia) who had a fine timbre to his voice but mezzo soprano Zarui Vardanean (Amneris-Princess of Egypt) seemed less comfortable with the wide vocal range demanded of her role.

In the Triumphal March, perhaps the opera’s best known passage of music and a highlight within the opera, some of the more eccentric additions brought about some unintentional comedy. Meant to enhance the spectacle and appeal to a wider public, a horse was led across the stage at the front of the least convincing, ill-assorted cohort of captured Ethiopian warriors you could ever imagine.

The horse looked bemused as it gave a knowing look at the almost full house. This brought laughter from the audience as too did the wag from the stalls, who called out, “Well, if that’s who they’ve been fighting, no wonder the Egyptians won!”

Over the years, producer Ellen Kent has gained a reputation for bringing opera to the masses. Her latest offering, Aida at the Liverpool Empire, is yet another example of how she has taken a work and tried to popularise it with her own unique take. However, I wish that I could call last night’s production a triumph but too many things jarred and the overall effect left me wondering if popularity did not sometimes come at too high a price. Just one more observation. I know that the Empire is next to Lime Street Station but did we really need to endure those glaring green, boxed ‘sur-titles’ high above the stage in lettering which resembled an information display on a railway platform?

Times have changed and the modern theatre-goer is quite a sophisticated beast who can genuinely appreciate opera without these confusing bells and whistles or need for comic relief. A great opera like Aida is best shown in its purest, simplest and most honest form.

 

Chris Kirwan.

Posted 2:32 PM Tuesday April 4, 2017. Filed under Entertainment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response to this entry. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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