Meant to be Verdi’s last opera, Aida tells the story of the eponymous Ethiopian princess, captured by the Egyptian army and taken to Memphis to become a slave to Amneris, the Pharaoh’s daughter.
Aida must hide her true identity while her father, the king of Ethiopia, prepares an invasion in order to rescue her. She has fallen in love with Radames, leader of the Egyptian army. The latter struggles between his love for Aida and his loyalty to the Pharaoh. To complicate things even further, Amneris is in love with Radames as well, and eventually discovers the relationship between him and Aida, igniting a terrible jealousy in her that will prove fatal for the lovers.
Radames returns victorious from the war against the Ethiopians. Amongst the prisoners he brings back is Aida’s father in disguise. Amonasro convinces her to manipulate Radames into confiding the Egyptian military plans to her. But as Radames reveals the army’s intentions, they are interrupted by Amneris.
Radames is forced to surrender to the Priests as Aida and her father escape. The young man is then convicted of treason and sentenced to be buried alive. The opera closes on him being immured with Aida who has returned and hidden in the tomb to die in his arms.
The performance directed by Ellen Kent at the Norwich Theatre Royal is enjoyable. The elaborate setting and intricate costumes are worthy of a great opera house. However, it is directed in such a traditional way that the acting feels strained, stiff and repetitive. The chorus acts more as a singing prop than an interactive, moving force in the storyline.
Aida’s arias are often performed in front of a sheet concealing the stage, making her performance look like a simple transition to the extravagant Egyptian tableaux that is being set up. The dancing is especially lacking in originality and complexity and felt out of step with a professional production.
That said, the second half of the opera is a vast improvement on the first. It gives more space to the singers in main roles whose voices are remarkable and the duets are outstanding.
Zarui Vardanean offers the most compelling performance as a torn yet powerful Amneris, particularly during the scene of Radames’s trial where she is alone on stage, listening to his condemnation.
Although musically and visually beautiful, the general stiffness makes it difficult for the audience to relate to the actors. As a result, the audience remains indifferent to the fate of the characters, and struggle to be moved by the ending duet between Aida and Radames, which should have a more poignant impact.