Verdi : AidaLondres, Royal Opera Hall, 2011 (Audio)
Director: Fabio Luisi
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David McVicar's production of Aida famously removes Verdi's tragedy from ancient Egypt and relocates it to an unspecified primitive theocracy predicated on human sacrifice and territorial war. It startled many when first seen. A year later, its power to surprise has lessened somewhat, and we are in a better position to assess its strengths and weaknesses.
Its force lies in its emphasis on the bleakness of vision of a work usually presented as kitsch. It suffers, however, from occasional lapses in focus and tone. McVicar, usually so eloquent on the workings of the psyche, is more at ease here with the big collisions between public and private lives than with the intimate clashes of the later scenes. A staging strong on the nature of communal violence ends awkwardly, and with little sense of suffocation when its protagonists are entombed alive.
Musically, it was inadequate when new. Now the work is given its due, vocally and orchestrally. There are minor cavils. Vitalij Kowaljow's Ramfis is weak: though the role is small, it matters. Neither Roberto Alagna (Radames) nor Liudmyla Monastyrska (Aida) possesses the high pianissimos the score requires, but their singing has a full-on urgency that is often electrifying.
The great performances, however, come from Olga Borodina as Amneris and Michael Volle as Amonasro. Borodina's bronzed tone and voluptuous delivery send continuous shivers down your spine. Volle presents us with a complex portrait of a man conscious that his own political needs must ruin his daughter's life. Fabio Luisi's conducting, superb in its emotional resonance and grandeur, is exceptional, too. The triumph scene is among the loudest and most thrilling things you will ever hear.
(Edited from The Guardian)