Aida – She came, she saw, she conquered

Milijana Nikolic as Amneris and Latonia Moore as Aida in Opera Australia's Aida. Image by Branco Gacia
Milijana Nikolic as Amneris and Latonia Moore as Aida in Opera Australia’s Aida. Image by Branco Gacia

Opera audiences know what’s coming when they book tickets for Aida – big love story, big cast, big singing and big sets. It’s constantly described as ‘opera at its grandest’ and comes with a certain expectations. Director and choreographer Graeme Murphy’s ambitious production delivers on most of these expectations, but often misses the mark. In spite of many shortcomings, the opera is held together by Latonia Moore’s formidable performance as Aida. Given that Moore recently made her debut in the role at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, expectations were high. In both New York and Sydney, she was thrown into the role at the last minute to replace a soprano who was unable to perform, but it seems she was always destined to play the role.

Moore possesses a rich-as-chocolate, versatile voice that fills the Opera Theatre and soars above the massive chorus. She turns in a passionate and memorable performance that brings real life to a production so focused on delivering theatrical spectacle.

[pull_left]This is an Aida that’s packed full of movement and colour[/pull_left]

This is an Aida that’s packed full of movement and colour. The sets and costumes, by Roger Kirk, give the whole opera a pantomime vibe. The stage is filled with two-dimensional set pieces that are lit with projections to give the impression of a pop-up book. Unfortunately, the whole production seems to sit halfway between cartoony pantomime and serious grand opera. You almost wish Murphy completely committed to caricature and created a truly unique Aida.

The extensive choreography by Murphy really shines, particularly in the second act, where the relatively small stage of the Opera Theatre is flooded with singers and dancers. The procession scene is visually spectacular, creating the illusion of a much larger cast. In terms of staging, there are some interesting ideas, but others that are just too obvious. You have to wonder if there’s a less literal interpretation of the love triangle. It’s in the choreography where Murphy takes the most risks and has moments of genius that really pay off.

Musically, it’s everything you would expect from the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra and Arvo Volmer does a magnificent job in drawing every nuance of the score and every grand, passionate moment out of the orchestra.

Opera Australia's Aida 2012. Image by Branco Gaica
Opera Australia’s Aida 2012. Image by Branco Gaica

The other performances are all uniformly strong, but Milijana Nikolic’s performance as Amneris is a highlight. She has some really gutsy singing and gets the true grit and heart of Amneris’ desires. Rosario La Spina is a fine Radames, but by the end of over three hours of fairly intense singing, he starts to struggle.

The production has moments of brilliance, and for its sheer spectacle it shouldn’t be missed. It’s far from the perfect Aida, but given the work is performed so rarely in Australia, it’s a definite treat.

The night really belongs to Latonia Moore, who is clearly a rising star on the international opera stage. You simply couldn’t hope for a better Aida. It’s a performance that will be remembered.


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