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Pyramid Scheme

New York
Metropolitan Opera House
10/16/2004 -  
Giuseppe Verdi: Aida
Aida: Fiorenza Cedolins
Amneris: Dolora Zajick
Radamès: Franco Farina
Amonasro: Juan Pons
Ramfis: Vitalij Kowaljow
Marcello Viotti (conductor)

Sitting in the Metropolitan Opera House the other evening while listening to a fabulous “triumphal march” scene, I began to ruminate on perspective. To wit:

I. Visual Perspective

The Met does a great job of creating a vast outdoor world for their Aida crowd scenes. Primarily this is accomplished by treating walls not as barriers but rather as portals. After Act II, scene i and its intimacy between the two principal women, the wall that has kept the protagonists right at the lip of the stage descends into the floor and it is revealed that about eight soldiers are standing atop, their backs to the audience. Instantly we are catapulted into their particular view (literal, that is, not philosophical) of a series of gigantic statues that seem to be many cubits off in the distance. As the spectacle continues, slaves, wagons, spearcarriers, supernumeraries, soldiers, prisoners, hangers-on, dancers and regal personages all emerge, seemingly in an endless stream. At the height of all of this splendor, the combination of the superb Met orchestra, the chorus that is undeniably the standard setter for the rest of the operatic world, the spirited conducting of Marcello Viotti, the core competencies of most of the principal and secondary soloists and the profoundly moving and impressive Dolora Zajick produces a most memorable glimpse of ancient ceremony.

II. Vocal Perspective

Ms Zajick is so great in the part of Amneris that the rest of the cast suffers a bit by comparison. I have always thought of this as Amneris’ opera, in the same way that I think of Don Carlo as Elizabeth’s, but this particular casting really drove the point home. Everything in this production revolves around Zajick, thus it is fitting that the great pageant has her at its exact center. At the end of the tableau, while all are singing and playing at decibel levels that almost, but never quite thanks to Maestro Viotti, go over the top, one could hear every single pear-shaped tone of this remarkable mezzo just as clearly as if she were singing a recital at Weill.

The rest of the cast was solid, even though the two “stars” were somewhat disappointing. When Rudolph Bing began his Met career by choosing Don Carloas his maiden voyage, he was roundly criticized by those who thought it impossible to cast three basses of quality (he outfoxed them by casting Boris Christoff as one, thus eclipsing any significant carping about the others). Aida has the same problem, but this current combination of Vitalij Kowaljow, Morris Robinson and Juan Pons as Ramfis, the King and Amonasro respectively was highly satisfying.

Unfortunately, this is not a second cast for this production, but maybe a fourth. Franco Farina replaces Domingo in name only. He is a non-starter with many vocal problems, not the least of which is a lack of respect for any of the notes other than the sustained high ones (the same annoying habit as that of Salvatore Licitra). Fiorenza Cedolins was considerably more disciplined in terms of technique, although her breaths are often louder than her tones, but she was so wooden throughout as to leave at least this listener
cold (the same annoying habit as that of Jane Eaglen, but without nearly the volume).

Sherie Rene Scott was a much more sympathetic Ethiopian.

III. Critical Perspective

Is it just me, or have reviewers in recent years begun to be even more condescending than their forebears? One cannot pick up a newspaper in New York any longer without being inundated with an icy critical wall of holier-than-thou “urbanity”. These days in the city, if you dare to like a standard production of a classic, you must be unsophisticated. Reviews seem to exist primarily to stroke their own authors’ egos. “Tut, tut” (pun intended), these self-appointed gurus say, “this Aida is but a shallow warhorse (there were indeed a few of those on the stage). It is unworthy of me to appreciate this type of old-fashioned effort.”

Well, you know what fellas, I loved it!

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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