Verdi – Aida
Aida – Krassimira Stoyanova
Il Re – Marco Spotti
Amneris – Anna Smirnova
Radamès – Jonas Kaufmann
Amonasro – Franco Vassallo
Ramfis – Ain Anger
Un Messaggero – Dean Power
Sacerdotessa – Anna Rajah
Chor und Extrachor der Bayerischen Staatsoper, Bayerisches Staatsorchester / Dan Ettinger
Stage director – Christof Nel
Bayerische Staatsoper, Nationaltheater, Munich. Monday, September 28th, 2015.
This might have looked like a routine revival at the Bayerische Staatsoper but it was actually an event. The reason – two of the world’s leading artists making staged role debuts. Krassimira Stoyanova was due to debut her Aida in Rome, Italy last year but sadly the production was cancelled due to the well-publicized issues in the house at the time. Jonas Kaufmann earlier this year performed Radamès in concert, also in Rome, and the subsequent recording with the Santa Cecilia forces has been released to coincide with this production. This cast was first heard on Friday and tonight’s was the second performance of the run.
The staging I found innocuous. It was a perfectly serviceable framework for the drama to take place in but I’m not sure it added much in the way of new understanding of the work. Visually, it looks like 1960s sci-fi meets 1970s disco, partly due to the costumes (Ilse Welter-Fuchs), partly due to the illuminated floor which looks like a relic from a nightclub where Grace Jones might make an entrance at any moment. It’s set in a brutally religious society where human sacrifice is ever present and the revolving stage is used effectively to illuminate various aspects of the micro-society and characters from different angles. Despite the relative modernity of the visuals, it actually plays the story straight. It might be short on new insights but as a revivable staging, it does the job.
Krassimira Stoyanova’s Aida was definitely worth waiting for. She was exquisite and gave us a singing lesson throughout the entire evening. Granted, hers isn’t the largest voice to have taken on the role but it’s used with so much intelligence that even when confronted with a mezzo as big as Anna Smirnova’s, she didn’t succumb to the urge to push. Moreover, she was so utterly musical in every single way. The line at ‘nella terra avventurata’ in the Act 3 duet with Radamès was so beautifully phrased, that she truly brought the music to life. Her ‘ritorna vincitor’ demonstrated some staggering breath control, so many phrases taken in a single breath that many others before her have had to break up. Her compact soprano was ideally matched to her physical portrayal of the role. This was an introverted Aida and Stoyanova combined voice, text and physicality to produce something very special. She soared wonderfully in the Nile scene giving us an ‘o patria mia’ that captured the very essence of the heartbreak that runs deep through the aria. Yes, I’m sure some will point out that she took a breath before the C, but she floated it with such an exquisite (that word again) hairpin that I was completely convinced. She closed the evening with an ‘o terra addio’ of such perfectly floated beauty that I was completely won over. I often describe the sensation of hearing an artist live when she makes me believe that she is the only person who can sing that role – Stoyanova worked that magic tonight. Her implicit understanding of the Verdian phraseology, her perfectly integrated instrument with a generous chest register – everything was put to the service of the role. She was glorious.
She was partnered with Jonas Kaufmann’s Radamès. So often we hear a ‘celeste Aida’ that sounds like the tenor doing battle with the aria. Not so tonight, Kaufmann gave every phrase his full attention and also ended the aria with an impressive diminuendo. It seems churlish to point out that that last note was flat but intonation did seem to come in and out of focus during the entire evening. It seemed that the voice wasn’t supported as well as it has been in the past and he was audibly tired towards the end of the third act which in turn suggests that he might have been mildly indisposed. While his diction was impeccable, I found Kaufmann’s portrayal mannered – individual lines were over-phrased and the covered tone in piano passages didn’t quite convince. In the final duet, I longed for him to open the sound up a little more and match Stoyanova’s delicate phrasing.
Anna Smirnova was tremendous value as Amneris. She’s a singer who just goes for it, gives the audience everything she has and the notes on the page are often optional. She isn’t subtle but she’s never less than entertaining. She gave us a judgment scene of such raw power, capped with an enormous A at the end, that I was absolutely convinced. The same for Franco Vassallo’s Amanasro. The voice was pushed so that the pitch was distorted but he sang with such generosity and clarity of diction that one really got a sense of a man who knew exactly what he was doing.
In the supporting cast, Ain Anger offered us his mellow and warm bass as Ramfis. I was very pleased to hear Marco Spotti’s King, sung in a big voice with fine resonance, evenness throughout the registers and a distinctive depth to the tone – very impressive. Also impressive was Anna Rajah as a beautifully-phrased Priestess, some wonderful portamenti point to a very bright future.
The orchestra played well for Dan Ettinger, though I’m sure they could play this score in their sleep. He did maintain excellent coordination with the vast forces in the triumphal scene. His conducting didn’t draw undue attention to itself apart from an enormous rallentando in the triumphal scene that seemed to come from nowhere and served no apparent musical purpose. The chorus was fine, singing with good blend and ensemble despite the fact that they were constantly being revolved around on the stage.
Tonight was clearly testament to the extremely high musical standards maintained by the Bayerische Staatsoper. This revival was well cast and showcased a glorious account of the title role. It was given in an unobtrusive production that was an inoffensive framework for the story. I very much hope that Stoyanova will return to the role soon.