Opera at the movies: Aida from La Scala
Caught that 2008 Zefferelli Aida w/ Bobby, Violeta Urmana, and like 10,000 other people at the West End Cinema here last night. It's on DVD here.But then! Amidst all the mildly racist dullness, Roberto Bolle appears--no bodysuits need apply--and the next 10 minutes become the Roberto Bolle's rockin' bod show, ultimately scoring him bigger applause than any of the lumpy ol' singers:
This is a sumptuously sung production. Urmana's virtues are well known, but the beauty of her voice here manages to awe nonetheless, demonstrating a creaminess that just don't quit. Unfortunately, her Aida is a tad whiny. Not that I don't want pathos, but when she starts to be a BUMMER I'm out. As for Bobby, I think we should all just agree that for whatever reasons "Celeste Aida" brings out the worst in his voice and that it doesn't matter because that is not really a great song anyway and everything that comes after is pretty spectacular. The shadow of that uncontrolled pingless hooty sound may lurk, but in stretches of riveting, unflagging passion like his 3rd and 4th Act scenes here it is all but forgotten. Ildiko Komlosi, who I don't know at all, offered a womanly, regal Amneris, and a great Act IV monologue and scene with Radames did some preemptive thunder stealing from the death scene.
The production is the Zefferelli joint that opened the 2008 season and it is some good red meat spectacular for the most part. But you know, there IS a line between opulent and busy, and this time out you find yourself somewhat desperately looking for the casino exit about 10 minutes before the end of Act II. I don't object to the shininess of the sets, though things do get a tad claustrophobic at times. The really berserker part is that Zeff decides to hang these metallic horizontal bars to frame the whole set, because, apparently, the absence of sparkly shit in the 40 feet above people's heads could not be allowed to stand.
The big dance numbers are...labor-intensive, but kind of a drag on video. This being Italy, they go all in for the black face, which is neither here nor there for the most part, but starts getting a bit absurd in the big Act II showpiece featuring legions of "Africans" in complicated masks and bodysuits. It looks a little something like this:
The overall video production is superb quality, though as many have mentioned, there are a lot of "artistic" moments cut in of flowing drapery and soft focus closeups of all the fake-ass golden Phthah tchotchkes. I don't object to these shots when used judiciously, but it often gets ridiculous, as during the final scene, when the camera can't keep its attention focused on the oh so boring shadowy tomb set for more than 10 seconds at a time without switching to some supernumerary's gold lame arm netting. That annoying tic aside, however, the camera work offers a nice balance of closeups and full-stage views so you can soak in/OD on the magic.