Magazine article Opera Canada

English National Opera

Magazine article Opera Canada

English National Opera

Article excerpt

Comparisons between the English National Opera's new production of Verdi's Aida (seen Oct. 3rd) and the recent Salzburg Summer Festival's star-studded show, with main attraction Anna Netrebko making her debut as the Ethiopian princess, are unfair but inevitable given the time frame. Taking into consideration the inequalities--most notably that the ENO functions on a fraction of the budget of the gilded festival--it is interesting to observe that these productions have similar strengths and weaknesses and fall into the same potholes scenically. Happily, in both venues, Verdi's music is served by superior conducting and remarkable singing.

At the ENO, the evening begins with the elegantly incisive conducting of Keri-Lynn Wilson. Comparing this relatively young woman conductor to veteran Verdi specialist Riccardo Muti (Salzburg) is not as unfair as one might think. Like Muti, she masters effects throughout that bring a freshness to the score. In the overture, she daringly separates phrases, later weaving them together into a silken tissue of sound. She passes from the intimate to the epic proportions of the work masterfully, with careful attention to the singers, always keeping a close rein on the orchestra--granted not the Vienna Philharmonic--but excellent players.

Sadly, Phelim McDermott's production like that of Shirin Neshat's in Salzburg, is not up to the level of the music and ultimately fails to make the monolithic drama come alive. At the Austrian festival, the Iranian artist's complete lack of experience in opera helped explain her ineffectual staging. However, Olivier Award-winning McDermott, highly successful with his previous stagings of Philip Glass's operas Satyagraha and Akhnanten for the company, strangely reveals none of the off-beat originality he is noted for, nor even a hint of his usual directorial bravura. For example, there is no apparent attempt to elucidate the love triangle of Aida, Amneris and Radames which is so central to the piece; rather, their interactions are inert and stereotyped. It is no help that Edmund Tracey's staid, awkward translation petrifies each phrase in mid-flight--proof once again, if more were needed, that it's high time the ENO drop its 'English only' policy. …

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