Opera Holland Park’s Aida Is No Museum Piece — Review

By Sam Smith Last edited 28 months ago
Opera Holland Park’s Aida Is No Museum Piece — Review ★★★☆☆ 3

Sending Radamès into battle Wall Street-style © Robert Workman

Londonist Rating: ★★★☆☆

Verdi’s Aida with its stirring music and poignant subject matter is an excellent piece for anyone wishing to try opera for the first time. Set in Ancient Egypt, it sees the warrior Radamès caught in a dilemma when he is loved by both the daughter of the King, Amneris, and the Ethiopian slave, Aida. His own desire for the latter does not square with his responsibility towards his people and things are further complicated when another clash with Ethiopia sees Amonasro, its king and Aida’s father, taken prisoner. When Amonasro persuades his daughter to squeeze secret information out of Radamès she becomes caught between her private love for the soldier and her public responsibility towards her nation.

How much one will take to Daniel Slater’s new production for Opera Holland Park may depend on what they look for in the opera. The action is set in the present day in the Egyptian wing of a museum, with the Egyptians becoming the museum’s executives, directors and sponsors, and Aida a humble cleaner. Although this maintains the right sense of power structure, it is hard to square with the notion of two mighty civilisations engaged in bloody conflict. Any suggestion that Aida can be reinterpreted as a modern day class war is at least problematic because it makes all of the Ethiopians working class, and the difficulty in sustaining the modern day setting is made clear when in the second half it is virtually forgotten and the drama played relatively straight.

For anyone, however, who is more interested in experiencing something colourful and dynamic than which strictly makes sense, this production certainly ticks a lot of boxes. The famous Triumphal March in which normally the prisoners are paraded is reinterpreted as a middle class orgy where the museum’s patrons snort coke and raid the museum’s exhibits to create fancy dress costumes. Similarly, the spoils of war are presented as paintings and artefacts that have been looted from other museums.

Opera Holland Park, with its tented auditorium, is all about enjoying a summer’s evening in an idyllic setting, and this is a production that complements that aim by being large, fun and at times very emotional. That it can be so moving is largely attributable to the undoubted musical qualities of the evening, with Manlio Benzi’s excellent conducting being complemented by standout performances from Gweneth-Ann Jeffers as Aida, Peter Auty as Radamès and Heather Shipp as Amneris.

In rep until 24 July (10 performances) at Opera Holland Park, 7 Pembroke Road, London W8 6PW. For tickets (£17-£75) and details of all productions in the 2015 summer season visit the Opera Holland Park website. Londonist saw this opera on a complimentary ticket.

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Last Updated 28 June 2015