IN a year when the focus is on war – the centenary of the start of World War One, the continuing and escalating conflicts in the Middle East, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Ukraine – Dorset Opera has chosen a battle themed opera for the first production of its 40th anniversary season.
Verdi’s Aida, first performed in Cairo in 1871 two years after the opening of the Suez Canal, is the story of Egyptian warrior Radames and his love for the captive Ethiopian princess Aida. He is sent off to command the army against the Ethiopian army, is victorious, but pleads for the lives of the captives, not realising that Aida’s captured father is in fact the king, Amonasro.
Paul Carr’s production for Dorset Opera, played on a splendidly gilded but simple staging designed by Steve Howell, makes the very most of the Bryanston stage, creating atmospheric patterns and an overwhelming sense of enclosure, all of which makes the tragic ending more poignant and memorable.
One of the excellent Dorset Opera’s distinguishing features is its work with a chorus of singers from the immediate area and young singers at the start of their professional careers, and chorus master Nicolas Mansfield’s work has never been more impressive than in this grand opera.
The fine orchestra was again conducted by Jeremy Carnall, now a firm fixture at Dorset Opera Festival, and how wonderful it is to hear the familiar and magnificent music of Verdi in the “home setting.”
There are four performances of Aida (and two of Beethoven’s Fidelio later in the week) and a double cast for Aida. Tuesday’s brought Suzanne Manuell (pictured) to the Bryanston stage. She not only has a beautiful voice but captured the torment of the slave, in competition for Radames’ love with her captor, Egyptian princess Amneris and accused by her father of betraying her country.
Antonia Sotgui was convincing as the manipulative and frantic Amneris, with Mark S Doss returning to Dorset Opera with a charismatic and powerful performance as Aida’s father, Amonasro.
Local singer Charlotte Hewett had her first big role with the company as the High Priestess, and Jean-Loup Pagesy was the impressive King of Egypt.
On the opening night Arnold Rawls (in an unfortunate wig complete with butterfly clips that gave him a worryingly womanly appearance) took over from Lorenzo Decaro as Radames. Mr Rawls has a fine voice.
As always with Aida, it’s the spectacle and the big choruses that stick in the memory (along with the big aria Celeste Aida) and this production does DO’s anniversary proud, with some fine performances and inspired use of light and shadow, evoking threat, hope and passion.
There are further performances on 23rd, 25th and 26th July. To find out more, visit the website, www.dorsetopera.com.