PERFORMER: Violeta Urmana, Johan Botha, Dolora Zajick, Carlo Guelfi et al; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Ballet & Chorus/Daniele Gatti; dir. Sonja Frisell (Met, New York, 2009)
CATALOGUE NO: DVD: 074 3428 (NTSC system; LPCM stereo; 16:9 picture format); Blu-ray: 074 3429 (1080i HD; 16:9 picture format)
ida is big, the Met is big, and their cast very big. This is Big Opera not Grand Opera, and in high-definition on Blu-ray simply huge. Add surround sound and you may find yourself cowering in the kitchen as the proverbial cast of thousands prepare for Radames’s triumphant arrival in a chariot drawn by two plumed horses. We are in an ancient Egypt reimagined by a latter day Cecil B de Mille with monumental architectural sets adorned with gigantic carved pharaohs. Sphinxes, scarabs, beaded hairdos – it’s the familiar iconography. And being the late ’80s it’s a land of conspicuous consumption with Dada Saligeri’s costumes spun from fine linen dripping with beads and coloured enamels. Pity Dolora Zajick’s Amneris who seems to be wearing most of the contents of the Cairo Museum of Antiquities on her head.
So what’s it all about? The thing that the Met does best, singing. Johan Botha is a stentorian Radames and in the later acts Zajick becomes a chilling Amneris. But it’s Violeta Urmana’s Aida who steals the show with melting pianissimos and thrilling top notes. Do they act? Of course not, they emote. Is there a single idea on stage? Don’t be silly. Just lie back and wallow, preferably in high definition. Christopher Cook