Monday, January 31, 2005

*Somebody* Was as High as an Elephant's Eye! Aïda at LA Opera

Well, add Aïda to the list of operas I never want to see again. I guess I would go see it if someone really good was going to be in it and it was close by, but other than that, if I get bitten by an Aïda bug, I’ll just stay home and listen to my recording. That probably won’t happen though, since it’s really not one of my favorites.I can’t say why though. Maybe the problem is that I’ve never seen it performed by a really good cast before, but I also just don’t care that much for the music, and in comparison to Verdi’s other operas—Don Carlos, Otello, Rigoletto, even La Traviata—the characters are kind of cardboard and the plot is kind of meh. I think Aïda was written after Don Carlos, but it seems like a practice for Don Carlos, character-wise. Amneris is very similar to Eboli; they’re both mezzos who love the tenor but are spurned by him and then plot his downfall, only to repent at the end. But maybe most mezzo roles are like that. Amonasro is also quite similar to Rodrigue in Don Carlos; even their rhetoric is the same, rivers of blood, etc. But in Don Carlos, the characters are more complex; their arias seem to reveal more about their personalities. Even poorly sung Don Carloses are interesting. Poorly sung Aïdas are just a bunch of people standing around a stage in pseudo-Egyptian costumes and shouting.But for some reason, Aïda is the most popular opera in the world (I would’ve guessed Bohème would be, but what do I know?). So the operahouse was unusually packed yesterday, packed cheek-by-jowl with complete douchebags. Cellphones went off, people talked constantly, there were the usual tuberculosis patients hacking and hocking; for some bizarre reason, the ushers seated latecomers while the singers were singing. Fucking annoying.

The staging was pretty spare and unintrusive. Nothing super tackily “Egyptian” or anything, though I did wonder why the Egyptians were worshipping a giant head of Richard Chamberlain. The costumes were kind of lame, also mercifully not super-“Egyptian”, but silly nonetheless. The Egyptian priests looked like a gospel choir of Yul Brynners. Aïda and Amneris wore muumuus, and Radames and Amonasro were confused about what country they were fighting for and were wearing Roman centurion-type outfits. Radames had dreadlocks for some reason; I guess they had some dreadlock wigs left over from all those crazy, reggae-loving Greeks in Idomeneo. The color choices were oh-so-anvilicious too. All the “good” Ethiopians wore blue and all the “bad” Egyptians wore red, except Radames (because he’s good, get it?), which made it really pathetic when Amneris couldn’t figure out who Radames was in love with. Duh, it’s Aida; they’re wearing the same color, clearly they’re in love!

As usual, my biggest gripe with the whole was the inexplicable continued use of “choreographer” Peggy Hickey. The only thing I can think of is that the woman can suck the barnacles off a ship’s hull (her choreography certainly can! *rim-shot*), because she’s not getting hired for her choreographing talent. It was basically Bangles music video quality stuff. Most of the dancers looked like flying squirrels wearing ski-jumpers’ unitards, and they mostly just contorted themselves into yoga poses, made “Egyptian” because they had their palms up. Amneris’s Ethiopian slave girls had some pretty pointlessly elaborate leaping contests, while Amneris ignored them; she looked like she was thinking, “Would these bitches stop hopping around and just give me my damn Payless sandals?!” No one ever told the high priestess not to run with swords either, because she was playing sword duck-duck-goose with some of the flying squirrel people.

The most egregious crime against Verdi, and visual art in general, was the “battle” between the Egyptians and Ethiopians. It was basically the usual homage to West Side Story at first (“I will kick your ass with dance!”), and I’m pretty sure that somebody got served at some point, but then they wheeled out the ginormous plastic elephants, and it degenerated into wheelchair jousting on a grand(?) scale. Finally the monstrosity ended with the lead Egyptian guy and the lead Ethiopian guy having a lame slow-motion fight that reminded me off the episode of Spaced in which Tim and Daisy have the invisible gun-battle with a group of young punks. Except that that was funny because it was supposed to be.

The singers were, I guess. Only Irina Mishura as Amneris was a decent actress, but her voice was sometimes hard to hear and had its rough patches. She looked like the love-child of Angela Gheorghiu and a drag queen. Wait, Angela Gheorghiu looks like a drag queen, so I guess Mishura just looked like Angela Gheorghiu. She didn’t seem as flatly malicious as other Amnerises I’ve seen and heard, which made her seem more Eboli-like to me. She’s the one who gets Radames in trouble, because she’s jealous that he loves Aïda, but then she tries to get him off (WOOOOO!). Ahem. Get him out of his death sentence for treason. It’s probably wrong that when she was singing about giving him “the reward of glory” for returning victorious from battle, I was thinking, “Now there’s a good euphemism for vagina!”

Apparently Michele Crider is a pretty famous Aida, but her voice seemed thin in the higher parts, and on the whole, she was just kind of dull, and her voice was neither attractive nor ugly. More important than never seeing Aïda again, I never need to see Franco Farina sing any Verdi ever again. He just shouts the whole time. And he’s got bosoms.

I think the guy who played Ramfis is actually tryptophan and sleeping pills molded into human form. I saw him in Nabucco a few years ago, and every time he was onstage, I fell asleep. The same thing happened at Aïda. It’s like I’ve been hypnotized. He’s got an OK voice, and his acting is fine, but I just can’t stay awake when he’s onstage.

ETA: Wow, Lado Ataneli as Amonasro was so forgettable that I, well, forgot him! Again, nothing spectacular in the singing department, but he did have a hilarious way of running around that made it look like he had just shit himself and was trying to keep it from touching him. And he was really, um, good at making threatening gestures right on the beat of the music.

I guess the famous operas just aren’t for me. Give me Pelléas et Mélisande or Iphigénie en Tauride or Rodelinda instead, and I’ll be happy, and the auditorium’s douchebag quotient will drop drastically.

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