Thursday, March 1, 2012

Verdi in Egypt

Marlon Brando once remarked when asked why he had taken a certain, very unlikely, assignment that "I just didn't have the moral fiber to turn down all that money." Giuseppe Verdi after twice being approached about  a very far away matter, finally accepted the very generous offer of the Khedive, Ismail Pasha. Whatever the amount, I no longer remember, it embarrassed him so much that he protested anyone leaking the figure to the public. Still, Verdi drew the line at attending the premiere, he did not go to Cairo. For all of that, Aida is magnificent. All the musicological slight of hand about 'conservative style' and decline in critical perception is I believe finally irrelevant. Like film critics who don't seem to remember how to have a good time or what it was like to be young, Aida is the grandest of grand operas and that rare thing - a great work, with the popular touch.Thank goodness he took the money and ran.
The plot has it all and like an over the top romance,which also has 1950's Cecil B. DeMille effects in its stunning transitional music, it is irresistible and one of operas most satisfying 'guilty pleasures'. Heroic Captain of the Guard meets beautiful slave girl and falls hard. Eligible and domineering noblewoman and girlfriend is driven crazy. Then come religious fanatics out for blood and a rebellious enemy who just won't stop making war. Beside the great triumphal scenes and the mass choruses at prayer (often staged in an arena, because - well what opera house is big enough ...) there is an endless series of reversals. The wonderful tension of the endless shifting relationships and some many portmanteau arias you lose count; Celeste Aida, Ritornar Vincitor, Numi pieta, O patri mia and of course music to be entombed by, O terra, addio. 
Still the most amazing part,the miracle is that it all works. This is an opera that began as an romance written by a Frenchman working as a Egyptologist. This was then rendered into a condensed prose plot by du Locle (who wanted it for the Paris opera) and then translated into  Italian at Verdi's insistence and was 'versified' by Antonio Ghislanzoni who Verdi micro-managed in a stunning series of no less than thirty-three letters. Before it was over Verdi even included the then current Franco-Prussian War as a transposed Egyptian-Ethiopian conflict of the opera! The result is one of the most popular, musically thrilling and beloved works in all of music and it requires no apologies. 
This Saturday, tune in at noon for the Metropolitan Opera's performance of Verdi's magnificent confection, Aida, here on KPAC and KTXI. Just pass the popcorn and remember, Resistance is futile.
by Ron Moore 

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