Review- Aida- Opera Hong Kong


By Peter Gordon


Opera Hong Kong’s recent “Aida” (10-15 October) had enough international stars for an entire constellation.





With its famous triumphal march and often over-the-top pageantry, Aida is the grandest of grand opera. It retains its audience appeal almost 150 years after its debut, with audience figures that still rival Broadway blockbusters.



The Abyssinian princess Aida — captured and enslaved — is in love with Radamès, a noble Egyptian warrior, and he with her. Radamès has however also fatally caught the eye of the Pharaoh's daughter Amneris. Abyssinia is invading Egypt — with an army led by Aïda’s father, the Nubian King Amonasro. Radamès has been chosen to lead the Egyptian armies against them; Aida finds herself caught between her love of Radamès and her country. One of the most famous performances of Aïda was a 1950s-era Italian film from Cinecittà — the “Italian Hollywood” — in which Sophia Loren (lip-synching the great soprano Renata Tebaldi) got her big break. Director Jean-Louis Grinda, sought to capture that cinematic spirit in this new production by placing the opera within a period film set, bringing the exotic into a more modern context as a reminder of its continuing relevance.



Cameras were wheeled in and out, and wardrobe assistants bustled about; the opening of Act III was cleverly set as if were movie rushes, but this interpretation came into its own with the Act II ballet. Ballet can be tricky in opera; it often seems an interpolation. Here, the choreography dramatically (and cheekily) integrated with the film-set concept; this being 1950s Italian cinema, the costumes were, well, fetching.




With six performances in as many days, the company needed multiple casts. These included two of the world’s best-known Aidas in Chinese soprano He Hui and American Kristin Lewis (a third, Marjorie Owens, I did not see). He Hui is by now a local audience favourite, as well she should be: her voice was burnished and lush. Kristin Lewis’s Aida was lost and vulnerable; she has a creamy soprano with a rich lower register. 



 Another welcome discovery was was Reginald Smith, Jr. who sang Amonasro, Aida’s royal father. This young baritone—a Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions winner only two years ago—was not a complete surprise: I had heard him last year at Washington’s WolfTrap in a young artists’ production of La Bohème. Smith has a physically commanding stage presence and a voice to match.



 Bass Hao Jiang Tian — a suave long-standing veteran of the world’s great opera houses — alternated with the well-respected Paul Gay as the high priest Ramfis. The leads were rounded out by Italian tenor Riccardo Massi, who had sung Radamès at the Metropolitan earlier this year and the Uzbekistani tenor Najmiddin Mavlyanov. Mavlyanov debuted at Covent Garden just last year; he has sung with the Bolshoi, Mariinsky, and Stanislavsky and is a reminder that singers can, and do, come from everywhere.



For more information about this production click here.


Rate This Show: 1 2 3 4 5 Audience Rating: 4.0


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