The magic of sharing the experience of grand opera under the stars of Veneto in a 2000 year old Roman Arena in Verona with 14,000 people in the audience is unique in the world. The moment when everyone lights their little candles at dusk as the orchestra tunes is one that still leaves me in awe..... Ever since I heard in one of my family sagas how my great aunt remembers going as a little girl with her mother to the first Aida there in 1913!
So when I heard that this year's Aida was actually the attempt to stage as close to the original 1913 Aida, I had to go and experience this grand spectacle myself. And grand it certainly was in every possible way - a huge spectacle that got everyone in the audience cheering. Vocally - I did wish that some of the lead singers were chosen differently, but then again - you can't have it all! I thought as I drove all day today back to Rome. I believe that everyone needs to experience Aida in the two settings here in Italy at least once in their lives... Arena di Verona is one and the other is the restored Terme di Caracalla in Rome.
The highlight for me this year was seeing two productions designed and directed by the Argentinean super star Hugo de Ana. I love the way he deals with the challenge of staging operas created for small, closed spaces in a gigantic space like the Arena where it is not easy to conduct intimate affairs. His first production for the Arena di Verona was Nabucco in 2000 which was amazingly like the spaceship from "Star Wars". Then came Tosca in 2006 - where in spite of the concept of abstract and focusing the opera on the symbolic, on the atmosphere and the characters' intentions, the run was sold out and in huge demand even by the patrons so used to the traditional way of presenting opera at the Festival in Verona. This year his 2008 Il Barbiere di Siviglia was remounted and it was such a huge treat to see this grand scenic game within a complex miming and choreographic movement. The Greek baritone Aris Argiris was wonderful and stole the "show" as great Figaro!
I had a chance to see the new La Traviata also designed and directed by Hugo de Ana. He used for this opera the concept of huge frames, empty of their mirrors - they help do both - fill the large spaces, reflect luxury but also help us experience the world of degenerating emotions. I saw the Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho who had to use the sheer force of her voice to play her role. I wish I was there when her co-patriot Inva Mula did the role. I have seen Inva do the role of Violetta when she both sang and acted it beautifully. The strongest cast member here was Geroge Gagnidze as Georgio Germont.
La Boheme....the concept of this production.... very stark, white, almost empty stage with Nicola Benois wanting us to share in the feeling of profound emotions and not be burdened by the often bothersome and heavy scenery that take away the reason why we are so moved by what we hear. Marcelo Alvarez was the soul of the opera as Fiorenza Cedolina pushed herself out of her comfort zone... she is a wonderful dramatic soprano (I have seen her as an amazing Tosca) and one wonders why she was cast in the role where we wanted to hear a lyric soprano match Marcelo Alvarez's voice and timbre. All I could think about was how I wanted to hear her in Un Ballo in Maschera!
Nabucco - the grand, opulent sets where the Verona Opera's chorus was the biggest star.... Although some of the lead singers were fabulous - Marco Vratogna as Nabucco and Vitalij Kowaljow as Zaccaria deserve a special mention. But the chorus was certainly something else...... they "reinforced" the usual 162 members of the chorus with the additional 60! After they sang "Va Pensiero", the audience lost it... so - what happens next? The conductor rewinds that film.... and they do the whole scene again! The custom of the place allows the audience to sing along when it's an encore! Tears and all!
The power of opera at its best!