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Subject: Aida at the Met - great singing, scenery faulty.
From: Andrew Byrne <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Andrew Byrne <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sun, 4 Apr 2010 11:48:45 -0400

text/plain (86 lines)

Aida Friday 26th March 2010 8pm. The Metropolitan Opera

Dear Colleagues, 

It was a pleasure to be joined by my father and brother at this Met 
performance with a new cast and conductor.  We were fair bowled over by the 
incomparable quality and power of the show which was one of the high points 
of my opera-going experience.  Chinese soprano Hui He made her Met debut 
and she proved to be a dramatic and vocal force to be reckoned with.  She 
has done Turandot in Italy.  The voice is large and well placed with an even 
production (happily there was no triumphal E flat attempted!).  Her expressive 
diminuendos, portamento and soft high singing were exemplary.  Not to be 
outdone, Salvatore Licitra sang the most creditable Radames I have heard in a 
long time.  He sang Celeste Aida conquering the pianissimo ending which is 
written but which few tenors can manage.  His dramatic portrayal was 

But perhaps the star of the night was Dolora Zajick (and some say the opera 
should be called ‘Amneris’).  Her strong mezzo voice was again in evidence.  
Carlo Guelfi was also a fitting if slightly rough Ethiopian king.  

Stefan Kocán was a suitable Pharaoh who leads the patriotic concerted 
piece ‘Su del Nilo’.  As Ramfis Carlo Colombara was more than adequate.   

Conductor Marco Armiliato kept the orchestra producing wonderful music at 
sympathetic paces.  There is obviously chemistry happening in the pit unlike 
what happened on the La Traviata opening on Monday 29th March under 
Leonard Slatkin.  On that night, as well as singers missing beats, I noted three 
brass players returning mid-act to miss a cue, an almost unforgivable lapse, 
like a sailor missing the boat.  

Enough has been said and written about the magnificent Met Aida 
extravaganza directed by Sonja Frisell.  All I can add is that despite their 
imposing nature the sets by Gianni Quaranta contain a major error.  They all 
look well aged, despite the opera taking place in royal palaces and temples of 
one of the great waring dynasties (18th most likely).  The columns, capitals, 
walls, hieroglyphics and other architectural detail each look just like the 
Egyptian items at the Metropolitan Museum.  Yet in reality they would have 
been bright coloured and fresh, perhaps with gilding, lapis and ebony 
decoration.  Of course we are all more familiar with the faded sepia tones, 
broken statues, incomplete cartouches, etc, so I am being picky.  

I happened to spy Atlanta tenor Lawrence Brownlee in the foyer recently.  He 
had been supporting Met debut of colleague tenor Mr James Valenti.  I 
complimented him on his excellent recent Met Almaviva and would eagerly 
await hearing (if not seeing live) the Armida with Ms Fleming.  I also expressed 
the hope that he might come 'down-under' some time as we were short of 
tenors … to which he replied that he had heard that our Australian opera 
company no longer took overseas artists.  Now I wonder where he could have 
heard that?  Sadly it is largely true.  This is 'small town', 'tall poppy' and ‘false 
economy’ syndrome all rolled into one.  

Many Australian subscribers who have heard great opera at home in the past 
or overseas must be seriously reconsidering their expensive and average 
quality local opera-going experience.  Contrary to their mission statement, 
much of the repertoire of the national company is not “opera” at all 
nowadays.  Musicals, G&S and experimental works often dominate the “opera” 
of their title.  And the average prices in Sydney are far higher than the Met.  
The Met has about 1000 balcony/circle seats between $26 and $85 and over 
100 standing positions for even less, all with excellent acoustics and sight-
lines.  In the Sydney Opera House ‘D’ reserve was abolished quietly a few 
years ago and standing room is now severely restricted due to fire laws … 
hence we have lost an important cheap “gateway” for young people to learn 
about opera.  *Shame* on national opera ‘management’ in Australia!  I can 
only hope that things are different in Melbourne which has a larger theatre to 
accommodate their opera goers.  

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..

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