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Booed ‘Aida’ in Paris Repels With Klan, Gestapo: Review

'Aida'
Oksana Dyka in "Aida" at the Bastille Opera. The orchestra is led by Philippe Jordan. Photographer: Elisa Haberer/Opera National de Paris via Bloomberg

Oct. 16 (Bloomberg) -- The booing started in Act I and reached tumultuous levels by the time director Olivier Py and Pierre-Andre Weitz, the set and costume designer, stepped in front of the curtain at the Bastille.

The Paris Opera hasn’t seen a new “Aida” since 1939 and this isn’t one for the ages.

Writing in the house program, Py claims that “Aida” is Verdi’s most political opera, “a great reflection on political violence.”

That’s nonsense. Auguste Mariette, the French Egyptologist who wrote the original story, envisioned an Oriental spectacular to celebrate the 1869 opening of the Suez Canal.

During the overture, a young man waving the Italian flag is brutally subdued by military police.

Later, an Austrian flag appears, and we understand that Py has updated the story from ancient Egypt to the Risorgimento, Italy’s fight for independence and unification.

In his 1953 movie “Senso,” Luchino Visconti proved the period can be a perfect background for the drama of a woman torn between love and her patriotic duties -- which is exactly Aida’s dilemma.

Unfortunately, Py over-eggs the pudding with tanks, Gestapo officers bearing machine guns, and poor gypsies.

Bigots’ Banners

Instead of the fabled Triumphal March, we endure a demonstration of bigots brandishing banners reading “My Country is Sacred” or “Foreigners Out!”

In the final act, Radames is tried by a kangaroo court of the Ku Klux Klan, complete with hoods and a burning cross.

For all that, the set is quite attractive. Weitz has a weakness for revolving metal structures. Here, the stage is framed by rows of brass columns, and the revolving center looks like a golden palazzo.

The singing reminds us of the difficulties of assembling a cast mastering the vibrant intensity of the true Verdian style.

Oksana Dyka in the title role has a steely voice, secure but without warmth. Luciana D’intino as her rival Amneris has some lovely low notes and a malnourished upper register.

Marcelo Alvarez is a powerful though unsubtle Radames. Sergey Murzaev’s Amonasro and Roberto Scandiuzzi’s High Priest Ramfis are both on the rough side.

The bright spot of the evening, as so often, is the orchestra. Philippe Jordan leads a clean, well balanced reading of the score.

Rating: **.

“Aida” is in repertory at the Opera Bastille through Nov. 16. Information: http://www.operadeparis.fr.

What the Stars Mean:
*****       Fantastic
****        Excellent
***         Good
**          So-so
*           Poor
(No stars) Avoid

(Jorg von Uthmann is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Manuela Hoelterhoff on arts, Farah Nayeri on film, Ryan Sutton on New York dining, Hephzibah Anderson on books and Amanda Gordon’s Scene Last Night.

To contact the writer of this review: Jorg von Uthmann in Paris at uthmann@wanadoo.fr

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net

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