This brand new production for ENO from celebrated director Phelim McDermott is spectacular and ritualistic, featuring a terrific cast and stunning production design (Tom Pye). However it’s just very slow and very long, which weakens the stakes and emotion of the story.
Verdi’s beloved African epic about the fall of Egypt through the eyes of an Ethiopian slave girl is not the easiest of source material, with three hours of grand, folorn arias and many grand, largo chorus numbers. Rather than fight against this inherent difficulty, the production has embraced it, with every character (chorus and acrobats included) moving in slow motion, or not at all, all the way through. Conductor Keri-Lynn draws out the tortured, romantic qualities of the score with slow tempi and constant rubato.
Gwyn Hughes Jones brings his full-bodied, theatrical tenor to Radamès, Captain of the Guard. Latonia Moore’s Aida appears more queen than slave, matching the music with a soaring high register and a gutsy, super-emotional lower range. Their secret love ends in a final scene where their melancholic, hypnotic vocal lines overlap and trail off into nothingness.
Much of the libretto (in a perfunctory English translation by Edmund Tracey) surrounds worship to the goddess Isis and almighty Phta, with stunning, netherworld costumes (Kevin Pollard) that shift and glimmer in acrobatics against a backdrop of fire. The spectacle, both visually and musically, is almost overwhelming. But you will need patience.