I saw *Aida* at the Met on 10/6/18. I saw it on PBS in the 80s, in this same production, and though I was impressed with the singers (Aprile Millo, Dolora Zajick, Placido Domingo, some baritone I don't remember), I wasn't so impressed with the opera itself. Then a few years ago I was going through a Leyla Gencer phase - - she's a Turkish soprano who was a big deal in the 50s and 60s. I went to the Public Library to see what they had of hers, and what a treat, they had a DVD of her doing *Aida* at the Arena di Verona. With Fiorenza Cossotto, Carlo Bergonzi, and some baritone I don't remember. I thought, "I'll just bop through this and only watch the parts I care about." Would you believe I watched every minute of it, because the opera itself was so amazing. I shared this with my opera singer friend Ethlouise Banks and she said, "Well check you out, discovering the standard repertoire."
I heard that the Met was doing a new production in a few years so I was excited to see that, but decided to see it this October because it was starring my beloved Anna Netrebko as Aida and the incredible Quinn Kelsey as her father, Amonasro.
The production is resolutely old fashioned, a real Park and Bark show. This is a snide term we use in opera circles to describe a traditional production where the singers walk onstage, plant their feet, face forward, and sing. A nice change of pace from some of the Eurotrash things we see. The set was High Kitsch. Amneris's bedroom looked like a suite at the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas, and I stayed in that hotel, so I would know!
Nicola Luisotti was the conductor, and the Met Orchestra blew me away like they always do. I want to give special mention to whoever played the oboe solo during Aida's big third act aria, "O patria mia." He or she played with such transcendent beauty, it was one of the highlights of the performance.
I'll discuss the singers in ascending order of how I liked them.
Alexandrs Antonekno was Radames, Aida's boyfriend. I was checking out the NY Times on my phone during the first intermission and saw the headline "Bitter Tenor of Senate Reflects a Nation at Odds With Itself." I knew this was about the Kavanaugh confirmation, but I think they were also thinking of Antonekno and his bitter, leathery sound. His voice is secure and he hit all the notes, but they weren't always nice to hear. Plus there was nothing particularly musical or insightful about his performance. But I was pleased to hear him sing beautifully (for him) in his final duet with Netrebko. I was reminded of something I read about Humphrey Bogart: he started his career playing tough guys and people were surprised to see him do such a good job as a romantic leading man in *Casablanca.* His explanation (I'm paraphrasing): "You have Ingrid Bergman looking at you like she's in love with you, it's not so hard to love her back."
Anita Rachvelishvili was Amneris, the Egyptian princess and Aida's rival for Radames's love. I hadn't heard her either, and this same friend at the Met told me I would love her, and I did! What a gorgeous voice. She sang with such sweetness and delicacy in the romantic passages, and wow, she can really pour on the chest voice when she wants to, her singing was sometimes thrillingly vulgar. She and Netrebko are doing *Adriana LeCouvreur* at the Met this winter and I just know that Rachvelishvili it going to bring the house down with her big aria.
Quinn Kelsey was Amonasro, Aida's father. I heard him in Verdi's *Don Carlo* in DC in March and oh Lord, he knocked me on my wide Dutch ass. What a phenomenal singer, a real Verdi baritone, sings with such a bone-deep feeling for the style. He had the most thrilling moment of the show - - he had a short aria near the end of the triumphal scene and after all that pageantry, dancing, and business with the horses, it was like a tight closeup on this noble, wounded man. Sure, it's Verdi who wrote it that way, but Kelsey delivered it in the most extraordinary way. His duet with Netrebko was another highlight. I can't WAIT for him to play Rigoletto at the Met.
I'll close with Aida herself, Anna Netrebko. In my first review of her, I described her as having "vocal glamour." She sings in a way that makes you want to listen. She's everything you want in an opera singer: she really holds the stage (her grand, silent movie use of gesture was a delight), she sings like a dream, and she puts her own distinctive stamp on the music without marring or obscuring the work of the composer. She's a real artist and I want to see everything she does.
My brother Patrick follows her on Instagram and sent me this video of the end of her big aria, "O patria mia," filmed at the dress rehearsal. I was tickled to see I was only the 74th viewing of it on YouTube. And by the time I finished, two and a half minutes later, it was up to 152 views. Now, at the moment that I'm publishing this review, it's at 33,866.