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Aida review at Royal Albert Hall London

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It’s easy to be wary of Raymond Gubbay’s ‘in the round’ operas at the Royal Albert Hall. The singers are miked (as is the orchestra), each show has to chase theatrical effect befitting of the grand setting, the star count is low and audience numbers high. But with scores of priests and priestesses, strapping Egyptian soldiers and oppressed Ethiopian slaves, plus some eye-catching modern yet exotic set and costume designs by Isabella Bywater, this new Aida directed by Stephen Metcalf – with tickets starting from £21.50 – packs in surprising value for your operatic pound.

The hall’s vast central arena of stone, gravel and protruding pillars becomes a desert dig site with the pyramids projected on to a triptych of screens placed in front of the organ. Mostly the video projections are evocative of time and place, though in Act II’s military display the screens carry a less effective live overhead view of the Egyptians’ show of military power.

The production is sung in the original language, a laudable move, but the surtitle displays are poor, an aspect that needs improving urgently: in the meantime bring binoculars or know Italian. Almost as tiresome is the insertion of the character of Amelia Edwards, the 19th-century Egyptologist, around the action as a dislocated observer. The last thing this grand piece needs is a framing device, let alone one of meagre insight.

The singing is often thrilling. In the first of three casts, Indra Thomas’ Aida is florid and effusive, Marc Heller is a suitably heroic Radames, for whose affections Tiziana Carraro’s rich, creamy Amneris makes a persuasive bid. Andrew Greenwood conducts the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with zeal.

Production Information

Royal Albert Hall, London, February 23, 24, 25, 26, 29, March 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

Director
Stephen Medcalf
Composer
Verdi
Producers
Raymond Gubbay, Royal Albert Hall
Cast includes
Indra Thomas, Marc Heller, Tiziana Carraro
Running time
2hrs 50mins

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