Aida review – Opera North rethinks Verdi's epic with formidable results

Town Hall, Leeds
Annabel Arden’s semi-staging updates Aida to a middle eastern war zone, with added sex and PTSD – and it’s superbly sung

We tend to think of Aida primarily in terms of epic grandiosity, but are we right to do so? With its relentless narrative and taut structure – a sequence of dialogues separated by ritual choruses – the dramaturgy of Verdi’s opera is almost classical in its severity, a point brought home by Annabel Arden’s new semi-staging for Opera North, the latest in the company’s series of productions of large-scale works tailored to concert venues rather than theatres.

Arden hauls the opera out of ancient Egypt into the present. Video projections of bombed-out buildings and screaming faces tell us we are in a modern-day war zone, possibly in the Middle East. Wearing street clothes, the chorus, as in Greek drama, become omnipresent witnesses to the tragedy in which they also participate. There are occasional quirks: Alessandra Volpe’s sexually provocative Amneris and Rafael Rojas’s troubled Radamès have clearly been having an affair before the opera starts; Alexandra Zabala’s Aida has resistance on her mind well before Eric Greene’s Amonasro suggests it; and Rojas, returning from battle, is very obviously suffering from PTSD. But even so, it’s formidably strong, and the big confrontations have undeniable force and veracity.

It’s superbly sung, too. The mix of silk and steel in Zabala’s tone nicely contrasts with Volpe’s more voluptuous warmth. Rojas belts a bit, though his dramatic commitment is never in doubt. Greene is a fine Amonasro, less overtly fanatical, more sympathetic than many, while Petri Lindroos makes an excellent, icily manipulative Ramfis. Conductor Richard Armstrong ratchets up the tension with inexorable momentum, and the choral singing is tremendous.

On tour until 11 June


Tim Ashley

The GuardianTramp

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