Olga Borodina was much better as the pharaoh’s daughter Amneris—in all respects. Vocally, she is a powerhouse; able to sing the highest notes with muscle and she popped out some almost bartitoneish low notes. Almost more importantly, she created a complex character out of a role that is all too often sung as a caricature of the spoiled brat who is used to getting everything she wants. This was a love triangle that she intended to win.
Borodina actively did battle with Aida for the affection of the war hero Radamès, portrayed by the handsome tenor Roberto Alagna. She casted Aida a couple of daggered glances that would have frozen a five-alarm fire and she turned on all the charm in the world around Radamès. True, she caused his downfall in a moment of jealous weakness by exposing his tryst, with Aida and her father Amonasro, King of Ethiopia (imposingly portrayed by George Gagnidze), where she treasonously gives away the Egyptian battle plans. However, her grief at his trial and death sentence is so real that you tearfully forgive her, even if she can’t forgive herself.
The set, costumes and stage decorations were imposing, and there were over 200 actors and three horses onstage in the justly famous triumphal march. The stage direction and the acting on the other hand, was completely absent other than “you stand here and you stand there.” Those with some acting chops, like Borodina and Gagnidze ( who was constantly popping his eyes wide open in a most disconcerting manner) created their characters out of their imaginations.
The ballerinas and the choreography was impeccable ; indeed awakened some of the somnolent audience, like Joseph Haydn has done with his “Surprise” symphony (Symphony #94).
The worst non-moment was the final duet. Radamès is condemned to die by being sealed in his tomb alive. Aida sneaks in to share her lover’s fate. And there they stood, eight feet or more apart for most of the duet. There was no impassioned greeting, not even a handshake. Finally, they managed to get into a very awkward scene in which they didn’t even sit down, or hug, let alone embrace and kiss. Of course, that had been typical of their very chilly romance for the entire show. You never believed that they were in love. Somewhat more energetic Roberto Alagna indicated some affection for Aida, but Monastyrska was frozen all afternoon, just walking through the role without any affect. She never went somewhere because it was natural; she went because the director told her to take three steps stage right on this note.
It worth mentioning Roberto Alagna in more detail. This mediocre French tenor arrived on USA stage when he won the Luciano Pavarotti voice competition. It is rumored that, upon their arrival, his graceful and accomplished Romanian wife Angela Gheorghiu set a condition to Metropolitan Opera : “Either take us both otherwise no deal..”. I am not sure if this story , I think I had read in “Opera News” years ago, is true or not. After listening to him in Aida, I believe it might be true. Appearantly Gheorghiu and Alagna now have decided to divorce.
Alagna made international headlines of a different kind in this opera in 2006. The scene was Teatro Alla Scala in Milan, one of the world’s great opera houses. The tenor usually sings lighter roles and he has received mixed reviews in previous performances. In Milan performance, the booing started as he made his first entrance and continued all the way through his opening aria, “Celeste Aida.” He supposedly gave, what Daniel Wakin of the New York Times called, a “military salute” (maybe with one finger raised) and stalked off the stage. He refused to go back stage and finished the performance. Naturally and rightly so, was barred from future performances by the opera house.
No one booed him in the movie theater on Saturday. He sings this heroic role with a pleasant lyric tenor voice. It is hard to tell the power of his voice in the movie theater. However, he frequently escaped to “falsetto” tones, especially at “legatos” when high notes were required. “High” tenor notes at finales and “crescendos” are relatively easy to produce; even for mediocre tenors. It usually brings big applause and, in United States, standing ovation. The real skill and power lies in singing the “high” notes at lower decibels and “legatos”; as skillfully sung in the past by Domingo, Pavarotti, Corelli, Di Stefano, Del Monaco and by many others. It is hard to understand why Alagna has so many roles in this year’s repertoire; then again, even Andrea Bocelli was allowed to perform (!) on this stage.
The set is gigantic and uses all seven of the Met’s rotating stages and fills 17 tractor-trailer trucks when it travels. Here, the roving camera shrunk the stage as it gave close up after close up. In fact, even when it pulled back as far as it could, you never really saw the entire stage. Besides, the closer you saw Monastyrska, the less effective she was. Even from the most expensive seats, the Opera house audience probably never saw her emotionless stare.
Dr. Timur Sumer