Italian-Turkish film director Ferzan Özpetek staged this broadly traditional version of Verdi’s opera to designs by Dante Ferretti and Alessandro Lai for the Maggio Musicale in Florence in 2011. With a visual background of vast Egyptian statues, blocks of stone and serried ranks of immobile choral forces, this is an Aida that might have been presented at Verona 50 years ago, though with the odd controversial touch; a small, terrified girl covered in blood is the focus of attention during the Grand March. Otherwise Özpetek shows little ability to motivate his individual singing-actors; it’s a return to stand-and-deliver Verdi, with the principals’ arm movements out of the Ark.
Vocally, there are strengths and weaknesses. Luciana D’Intino’s Amneris operates on the grandest scale, fired by energy and passion. Marco Berti’s Radamès is solid but stiff, with few attempts at subtlety or dramatic engagement. Ambrogio Maestri’s Amonasro is powerful but rough-hewn. There’s an excellent Ramfis from Giacomo Prestia, while Roberto Tagliavini’s King is merely decent.
More problematic is the performance by Chinese soprano Hui He in the title role. Her acting is on the same level as the rest of the cast, but her singing of this demanding role is less accomplished, with her unsteady tone coming and going. It doesn’t reach the level the distinguished Maggio Musicale should be aiming at.
Conductor Zubin Mehta is treated to a chorus of the Italian version of ‘Happy birthday to you’ at the end of the opera; presumably it’s his 75th. But his is not a distinguished interpretation, either. There are worrying moments of poor orchestral intonation and ensemble and the overall impression is bland.