David McVicar's new production of Aida for the Royal Opera is a visceral affair. The costuming has a Pharaonic opulence but could be interchangeable with the designs for Mel Gibson's Inca epic Apocalypto, not least because of the semi-nudity and blood that goes with the ritual and pageantry of Verdi's opera. Quite apart from being an echt McVicarism, having a handsome corps de ballet inbetween the cast & chorus and the formalities of the score is now a familiar sight on the London opera stage. I have to say that on this occasion I found it rather superfluous, if anything isolating the music as having nothing to add to the drama (of course the singing cast on stage just stand to one side and watch until they're required to sing again). The second appearance of the dancers at Amneris' baths simply reminded me of the TittyBangBang Italian Lady sketch in which a cleaner rushes about shouting "don't look at me, I'm shy" in an impertinent bid for attention:
I admit that unifying the drama in the score, the forces involved and the necessarily stylised circumstances of the staging is a very difficult proposition. I liked the set and costume design in general, more credible than the garish fantasy of Zandra Rhodes' designs for ENO. Yet we still had this divide, first clearly demarcated in the poorly blocked & integrated I Capuleti e i Montecchi at this same house last year.
The singing was good, although not always to my taste. The voices are big and Nicola Luisotti governs his tempi with an iron baton, as it were, so they don't always get the best space in which to operate. Álvarez's Radames has metal - virility - but not a ready lyricism. Carosi tried to work some of this into her Aida but, again, space for her wide dynamic range to breathe was denied her. Most irritatingly, the ensemble was dangerously rocky. Not even Robert Lloyd's totemic King of Egypt managed to adhere to a truly consistent tactus. I was unequivocally impressed though by Ji-Min Park's cameo as The Messenger though, well-acted as well as sung.
A strange evening in the theatre. Well-designed but ultimately self-conscious the production seemed under-realised. It was peculiar being in the audience, where tsunamis of crescendi and dynamic peaks seemed emotionally empty. We applauded on cue but often only by virtue of a cue rather than in response to or release from the drama.