Friday, December 2, 2016

Aida (an opera review post)

No, the cat is not part of the review, but the cat insisted on being in the photos. Every single one of them. He just followed me around and sat on or next to the book every time I tried to frame the cover in the picture. Maybe he's trying to tell me something about Aida? Or wants to read the program? Or just likes the pretty picture? I guess we'll never know.

Aida is not the worse opera I've seen, but this presentation of it was far (FAR) from the best. I say "this presentation" not because I've seen some other presentation of it but because Aida is one of the most prominent operas in the world, and I have to assume there's a reason for that. [After each opera we see, my wife and I check the reviews to see how our views match up with the people who do that sort of thing for a living (so far, we're doing pretty well), and the reviews of this presentation of Aida  tend to say that it was below expectations and that it was mostly due to the musical director.]

So what was the problem?

It was too slow.

I don't mean there wasn't enough "action" in the traditional sense of "action," but this opera had a lot (a lot!) of that standing in place and singing thing that removes any potential action from a scene. Even to the point where one guy, Radames, the Egyptian general, is singing about how much he wants to be made commander of the forces while all of the other soldiers are just standing still watching him. Seriously, no one was moving. And it just went on and on like that. If the soldiers had been doing stuff in the background, like they were working or something, while he was singing, it would have added some life into something that was about as entertaining as watching someone take a nap.

Which is not to say that the quality of the singing was not as great as it always is -- the performers were all great as far as the singing went -- but there was obviously a directorial decision made that had the performers being rather static during the performance.

The other thing of note about this production is that the set was... disappointing. They made a big deal about working with Los Angeles artist Retna on the set design (he did the art for the cover of the program book in the picture above), and the art was cool and interesting, but, other than the art pieces worked into the set, the set was rather bare. It was very minimalist, so not even the set added interest to the performance.

The other thing that bothered me is something that may not be fair; I actually don't know enough about opera and the opera world to know. The setting of Aida is during a war between Egypt and Ethiopia, yet the cast was nearly all white. It's possible that there may not be any way around that as far as the primary cast goes; opera tends to be pretty white. However, it seems to me that they could have done something more diverse with the chorus characters and the few dancers. It would have been nice to have a something that looked like representative of a war between Egypt and Ethiopia. But, again, I don't know enough to say that definitively, and it's not like there is a tradition of Aida being performed any other way (despite the fact that it was commissioned for the opening of the Cairo opera house in 1870(ish)).

Still, and I sort of hate to always go back to this, it was better than last year's Usher House. At this point, I'm pretty okay with any opera I'm seeing as long as it's better than that.


  1. Your criticism of the casting is kind of what Hollywood has been facing recently, too, with movies set in Japan and Egypt featuring white people. So I went and read about it. Interesting article here:

    The gist of their feelings seems to be that it's okay for white people to play black roles (or asian roles) if the intent is not to mock, and in part based on the idea that forcing people to only play their real race might limit people of color in the roles they can play.

    1. Briane: Well, I agree with that; look at the cast of Hamilton, which I think is awesome.
      However, I'm talking mainly about the background here, the people making up the chorus, basically. A more diverse cast there would have given the opera a better feel.

  2. Maybe he really likes Aida.

    The casting choices sound so typical for productions, like there aren't enough roles for white people already. And this one suffered from poor direction as well. Maybe another one will be better.

  3. All cats want to go to the opera to mehowl along.


  4. I've never seen an opera. I guess that makes me kind of like Julia Robert's character in Pretty Woman. (Only in that way.)

    1. Jenny: heh
      I haven't seen that movie in a really long time, so I don't quite know what that means. However, most people have never seen an opera, so that's not unexpected.

  5. I've always been lukewarm on Verdi. I prefer Puccini.