Aida, for all its Grand Opéra majesty, is a deeply personal work -- it's Verdi's most autobiographical opera, a very canny way for the embittered master to flesh out his relationship with Giuseppina, then burying it under the crazy concept of an ancient Egypt almost nonsensical plot. Therefore, in a way, anything that reeks of bombast misses ther point of Aida's true heart. And Daniele Gatti, new chief of Opernhaus Zurich -- he'll begin his tenure next January with Elektra, and Opera Chic is so going -- appeared last night to have understood perfectly the need to excavate Aida from the ruins of so many brassy, crass interpretations.
Opera Chic was curious to check out Daniele Gatti's work, his idiosyncratic Verdi being always very interesting and deeply moving, like his misunderstood Don Carlo this past December that opened the season at la Scala.
Gatti's Aida is a nocturnal work with a delicate soul, where notes begin with a whisper and slow tempi give the character's feelings time to breath -- and where voices aren't drowned under a torrent of merciless, military brass. Even in his "marcia trionfale" (with Egyptian trumpets, bravissimi) the Bavarian State Opera orchestra pierced your heart, not your eardrums.
Unfortunately, such a delicately woven approach wasn't matched by Radames (a Salvatore Licitra who was once our great hope for Italian tenors and now is just a singer who delivers blunt performances with a blunt, powerful instrument) and Aida (Kristin Lewis, who gave moments of great emotional power but who needs to work on some serious legato issues -- she has amazing potential but one hopes she'll study more in the future -- unless she wants to find herself a female Licitra in a few years: a talented vulgarian). Amneris (Ekaterina Gubanova) soared above her colleagues with gorgeous singing and sensitive acting -- she's a treasure, and one wishes her the wonderful career she deserves (at age 30, she has already worked with so many great conductors -- they know she's the real thing). Christian Van Horn was simply flawless as the King -- despite some silly costume work that saddled him with something we hadn't seen before -- 15-inch platform gold pimpin' shoes that would have made the ODB proud.
This would lead us to write about the director, designer and costumes -- will do later on the full review, though. Because when slaves are dressed up as the staff of L.A.'s Mondrian hotel during the Labor Day barbecue, and Radames looks like a gym rat with a Gladiator fetish, well, you really need to elaborate on all that.
One simply has to record that, predictably, the opening night crowd uncomprehendingly cheered all the singers (including Licitra, who got better as the production went on but started out with a "Celeste Aida" so jumpy that la Scala would have booed him off the stage -- poor Roberto Alagna in 2006 was massacred for much, much less), then the audience booed the production team, and mixed applause and a substantial round of boos were administered to the exquisite conductor. Because if someone expects spaghetti and meatballs (as they think those constitute real Italian cooking) and you deliver them splendid, actual Italian three-star food, they won't like it. They want the greasy tomato sauce and the processed, fake Parmesan and by God they'll have it.