I suspect that making the right choice for a semi-staged, or concert, performance of an opera is an art in itself. I was doubtful about Opera North's selection of Salome last year.
However, its decision to go for Aida this year is right on the money. The music itself is quite grand enough without the need elaborate sets and costumes. Why parade elephants across the stage for the Triumphal March when you can have six trumpeters, buoyed up by a large orchestra and a powerful chorus?
In addition, Director Annabel Arden, chooses to use modern costumes to emphasise that little has changed since the time of the Pharaohs. War is still destructive of property and people’s lives.
Radames, hero of the Egyptian forces, but eventual victim of fate, goes to his death having betrayed almost everything he holds dear. Opera North favourite, Raphael Rojas, delivers a powerful performance singing sensitively in Celeste Aida and then turning up the volume as his experience of war, and his unwitting betrayal, take their toll.
Aida (Alexandra Zabala) herself is dressed austerely in army fatigues, never letting us forget that she is a slave, but linking her subliminally to the man she loves, Radames, similarly attired in boots and combat trousers. Zabala is new to Opera North, and interprets the role with a profound understanding of Verdi’s intentions.
Her rival for the affections of Radames is the Pharaoh's daughter Amneris (Alessandra Volpe). She has a far stronger stage presence playing the femme fatale of Act 1 than the jilted fiancée of Act 2, but sings superbly throughout.
The three leads – Rojas, Zabala and Volpe – seem to have an uncanny understanding, whether singing in trios or duets.
A convention of the Leeds Town Hall stagings is the use of a back-drop to comment on the action. Designer Joanne Parker uses a series of abstract images that link with scenes of devastated buildings and screaming mouths to complement the action.
The Chorus of Opera North regularly receives an ovation as enthusiastic as the stars of the show. No exception here as the devotees roared approval for their powerful support of the action. Most revealing were the looks of delight on their faces as Conductor, Sir Richard Armstrong, raised his hand into the air to applaud along with the audience.
Innovative and daring, Opera North continues to delight.
Aida can be seen at Leeds Town Hall on May 8, 10, 28 and 29.
Tickets: 0113 376 0318 or online here