Aida

 

Verdi Aida opera to libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni. Directed 2009 by Graham Vick at the Bregenz Festival Seebühne "Lake Stage."  Singing stars are Kevin Short (The King), Iano Tamar (Amneris, the King's Daughter), Tatiana Serjan (Aida, An Ethiopian Slave), Tigran Martirossian (Ramfis, High Priest), Rubens Pelizzari (Radamès, Captain of the Guard), Iain Paterson (Amonastro, Aida's Father, King of the Ethiopians), Ronald Samm (A Messenger), and Elizabeth Martorana (A Priestess). Dancers are Sarah Braschler, Tina Essl, Annett Göhre, Josefine Häggblad, Daniela Heissl, Flavie Hennion, Katharina Holzweber, Beatrice Kessi, Isabella Kraus, Wencke Kriemer, Nadja Musil, Silke Woschnjak, Amadeus Berauer, Hannes Diehl, Andrew Hill, Adrian Hochstrasser, Roberto Junior, Claus Kupreit, David Laera, Carlos Matos, Lebogang Elliot Mohlamme, Adriano Sanzo, Ruben Jonathan Wiethüchter, and Jason Ziegelmaier. Stunt performers are Matthias Schendel, Cornelia Dworak, Dori Horvath, Sandra Kier, Kristina Papadopoulou, Christian Gneißl, Bernhard Häfner, Falko Kleinert, and Sigi Polap. Carlo Rizzi conducts the Wiener Symphoniker, the Camerata Silesia (Chorus Master Anna Szostak), the Polish Radio Choir Kraków (Chorus Master Włodzimierz Siedlik), and the Bregenzer Festspielchor (Chorus Master Benjamin Lack). Stage music by the Vorarlberger Landeskonservatorium conducted by Herbert Walser-Breuss. Set and costume designs by Paul Brown; lighting by Wolfgang Göbbel; choreography by Ron Howell; video direction by Felix Breisach. Released 2010,  disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: D

We noted elsewhere (see Tosca at Arena di Verona) how hard it is to get a good HDVD of a summer festival opera staged in an outdoor arena. (What looks good at 200 meters tends to looks bad at 2 meters.) This Bregenzer Festival Aida is an even more horrible example of this phenomenon. We start with the nastiest, scariest, and most dangerous entertainment venue created by man since the Romans stopped killing people for fun at the Coliseum: The Bregenzer Seebühne or Lake Stage. It's literally in the waters of Lake Constance (the audience of 7000 sits on the shore). Some of the singers perform at times, with electric microphones, in deed water.  Most of the action takes place, however, on various boats and industrial contraptions like a submersible stage, a floating stage, piers, and catwalks.

To compensate for all the dangers at the surface, other scenes take place dangling 200 feet in the air (at night) from two giant construction cranes, one of which resides permanently right in the middle of the "stage." So much for gross anatomy. Via HDVD, we get to see all the warts, scars, and stretch marks on the body---which show up in this arena as pumps, motors, ropes, cables, electrical conduits, safety rails, a mysterious periscope, jerry-rigged platforms, and the like.

Against this background, we should not be surprised by outlandish designs elements such as giant fragments of the New York Statute of Liberty littered about painted in cobalt blue, an elephant as big as the Sphinx floating on a barge, and huge flame-throwers firing from the waters. But I do object to the director's silly attempts at titillation such as the hooded slaves being lead about on dog leashes, the uncounted casual human sacrifices, the orgy of 25 blonde Barbie Dolls with their bound Chippendales, and --- my favorite-- Radèmes' torture test in which he survives a blind-folded plunge into the waters by holding his nose.

Amid all the catastrophic ugliness, I must report that the microphones worked well and the singers managed to sound quite good. I felt sorry for all the singers, but especially for Iano Tamar singing Amneres in Chapters 30 thru 34. There she gets to wear a truely elegant white gown. But she spends the whole time spashing about (and at one time lying down in 8 inches of water on the (submerged) submersible stage) leaving her soaking wet.

The performers are also exposed to the upper elements. During this performance of Aida, it rained on both the performers and spectators, who, being denied the use of umbrellas, brought out plastic raincoats.

James Bond had to visit this. Check out Quantum of Solace and follow James on stage and see how the venue looks to the performers. Only the performers and the plebs get wet when it rains. The elites sit in a skyscraper of enclosed glass booths where they are substantially protected from the weather and having to listen to an opera.

I think few people will feel much pride of ownership from possessing this recording. As an HDVD, this title deserves an "F" for set, design, and direction. But in honour of the valiant singers,  I upgrade to "D" for "damp."

Here are a couple of good clips: