I myself find it hard to believe, but this evening’s performance of Aida in Rome is the first performance of an Italian opera I gave ever seen in Italy. It is not, however, my first performance of an Italian opera by an Italian opera company, thanks to the visits of La Scala, La Fenice and even the Rome Opera to Tokyo. In any case, I did not have high expectations. An Italian friend even told me that I was a fool to buy a ticket for a performance of an opera company that could cease to exist amidst financial problems. In any case, the performance happened without any surprises. And this could unfortunately describe the performance itself.
Although Micha van Hoecke has explained that his intension was to avoid grandiosity, he did not seem to mind kitsch: the audience was treated to generose doses of stock gestures, cute ballet numbers, technicolor costumes plus absence of insight. It seems that this production was first seen in the Arena di Verona, where the setting was supposed to add the atmosphere sorely missing this evening. Conductor Jader Bignamini evidently took pains for keeping the proceedings clean and correct, and that basically involved refraining everyone’s enthusiasm (except in what regarded the drummer). The result was a recessed string section, low dramatic tension and no sense of building climax, probably as a side effect of having to help out a light-voiced cast who did not have much to say about their roles.
Csilla Boross is not a dramatic soprano. I wouldn’t call her a soprano lirico spinto ither, but rather a lyric soprano in the sense of someone who should be singing the Countess Almaviva but who is not of afraid of distorting her already edgy high register into something piercingly metallic to cope with dramatic passages. Although she seemed to have an emotional connection with Aida’s predicaments and the tonal quality per se is youthful, the lack of morbidezza and the bottled-up high notes and increasing strain did not help her in lyric passages wither. I am not sure if Radamès is a role for Fabio Sartori either, especially this evening, when his tenor sounded unfocused and somewhat rasping. He could phrase cleanly as usual and produce some big high notes, but they sounded pushed and wooden too. I do not think he was in his best shape and an uncongenial part only showed that more clearly. Both basses were also on the light side for their roles. Giovanni Meoni’s baritone is a bit hard and his manners are a bit boorish, but that goes well for Amonasro. The fact that he was the only singer not overparted on stage sounded particularly refreshed this evening.
Anita Rachvelishvili’s Amneris deserves a paragraph for herself. I had not seen her live before and was positively impressed by the plushness and warmth of her mezzo soprano, qualities used with great skill to produce a feminine and seductive impression. As a matter of fact, this Amneris scored every point in what regards subtlety and was never afraid of floating mezza voce and keeping a pure legato line. In many moments, her approach made the role sound entirely new to me, also because of her fine word pointing and clear diction. But the fact remains that this is a part for a dramatic mezzo soprano. Rachvelishvili can flash a dramatic high note now and then, but too many of them in sequence clearly tax her. The fact that she generally is honest about her passaggio often collides with her intention of producing impact around her gear change, what makes the whole proceedings even more exhausting to her. She does have the fiery temper for the Judgment Scene, but I have an impression that a cool head there would be more effective in keeping her from going beyond her limits and exposing the limitation itself – a lesson she could learn from Daniela Barcellona, who gave her 100% in a concert performance of the Teatro alla Scala with Gustavo Dudamel in Tokyo, but never more than that. Or, if she is not that kind of person, then throwing caution to the winds should be more exciting than frustrating (cf Agnes Baltsa or Brigitte Fassbaender). All that said, she was the reason why I didn’t leave in the intermission.