23 October 2008

An average Aida at ENO

My only previous visits to the ENO had been to see rarely performed operas (Nixon in China and Satyagraha) but I was tempted to take the family to see Aida at the ENO because it was some months since the Glyndebourne season ended (I went three times this year), even longer since we had all gone to the opera together (The Bartered Bride at ROH in 2005) and I was intrigued by the prospect of Zandra Rhodes’ designs.

In the best tradition of beauty contests, I’ll comment on the various aspects of the production in reverse order.

Easily the worst part of the evening was the audience which was inconsiderate, noisy and rude. Around me people spoke during the performance, frequently unwrapped sweets, clapped during the music, left a mobile phone on and ran for the exit as soon as the performance ended.

It’s hard to image a worse audience at an opera so that gets a score of 0/5.

The theatre itself does little to enhance the evening. It was too warm throughout, there is less legroom than on a budget airline, the seats are uncomfortable and the pitch between the rows is insufficient for the height people are today. (2/5)

The solo singing was mixed at best. We were warned beforehand that several of the cast were suffering from seasonal ailments but if they were not well enough to perform then understudies should have been used or the performance cancelled. Deliberately offering up below par singing is unforgiveable. Some of the soloists seemed uninflected by the dreaded lurgy and the Ethiopian king and the High Priest gave commanding performances. (2/5)

The direction was limited and very formal. For a love story set during a war there was very little emotion on stage. The soloists were stationary for most of the time and usually singing directly to the audience rather than to the objects of their passion. (2/5)

The ensemble scenes were much much better. Whether it was the priests singing at the trial or the triumphal procession after the initial skirmish with Ethiopia, the stage was full of singing and movement.

I am not sure that we needed the acrobats but they did no harm and the scene they were in was the liveliest and helped to kick momentum in to an otherwise fairly flat performance. (4/5)

But easily the best part of the performance was the Zandra Rhodes designs. The sets were fairly simple but brightly decorated with Egyptian symbols in turquoise and orange. The same colours were used in the costumers and in, er, the elephant! I especially liked the Anubis headdresses worn at the celebration and the large Eye of Horus symbol on the prison bars. (5/5)

On balance, the ensemble singing and the designs saved what could have been a poor evening and made it one that was worth going out for (3/5).

However, I already know that I will be going to Glyndebourne several times next year but I am unlikely to be going back to the ENO in a hurry.

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