|courtsey of Wikipedia|
There are so many genres of opera. There are the exquisite chamber operas that are close to plays like Strauss’ Capriccio of Gluck’s chamber operas. Then there are the operas of morality or ideology like Beethoven’s Fidelio or Mozart’s Idomeneo. Verismos raw emotions and atonal expressionisms decadent excesses like Berg’s Lulu or the opera of scandal, like Salome and the late romantic opera as epic poetry, The Ring. The list goes on and on, opera has something for everybody. But for the great public is there anything quite like opera as spectacle. The curtain rises and before a note is sung we hear the gasps from the audience at the scale, luxury and sheer grandeur of the “spectacle” laid out before us. The historical drama of epic scale with its costumes, archaic or imaginary dances, historical and or mythological figures, vast and exotic architecture, fauna and flora, evocative locals is like Cecil B. De Mille for the musical theatre. It is perhaps also the most salient intersection of opera and cinema. If ever there was a model of this genre it is Verdi’s Aida.
Beginning as a commission from the Khedive of Egypt to Verdi to write something for the opening of the Suez Canal the composer at first declined. It was only later that he was presented with the spectacle of Aida. We are shown vast palaces, pyramids, courtiers, priests to enact long lost religious ceremonies, beautiful gardens and sometimes camels and elephants, depending on the venue. The clash of classes, of civilizations, romantic rivalries, battle scenes, a barge floating up the Nile and even an entombment! And on top of all this a romantic triangle at its center around which all this is taken beyond war to personal vendetta. The vocal writing fits the larger than life scale all the principals are given some of the most memorable music ever written, for Radames there is Celeste Aida, for Aida Ritorna Vincitor, for Amneris Fu la sorte dell’armi and on and on it goes.
In the climax, the great love duet:
O terra, addio, valle di pianti …
Sogno di guadio che in dolor svani.
Oh earth, farewell: farewell vale of tears …
Dream of joy which in sorrow faded.
This as irony is piled upon, literally to the operas closing bars. In an attempt to separate the two lovers, Aida and Radames, the scorned Amneris has had her ex- lover sentenced by a religious tribunal and buried alive only to discover that Aida has joined him and they are now united forever.
The cast is also a classic: Tebaldi, Bergonzi and Simionato with Herbert von Karajan directing the Vienna Philharmonic.
Please tune in this Saturday at noon for operas version of “The Greatest Show on Earth“, Verdi’s Aida, here at noon on KPAC and KTXI
by Ron Moore