Review: Aida at the Hackney Empire
AIDA: Attention, Interest, Desire, Action
AIDA – thankfully for my (slightly contrived) wordplay – is an acronym that works beautifully to describe Ellen Kent’s brilliant interpretation of Verdi’s grand opera.
My attention was grabbed immediately by the gossamer screens veiling Hackney Empire's stage, creating an atmosphere of mystery and foreboding. Once fully revealed, it was clear the programme claim of ‘stunning sets’ was not mere hype, but an accurate description of the superb craftsmanship that had gone into transforming this simple stage in the East End into striking tableaux of ancient Egypt.
No less impressive were the costumes, intricately stitched and wholly convincing, and the special effects which included a spectacular wall of fire. Ellen Kent has a remarkable talent for creating the illusion of scale through creative use of space.
I must confess to never having heard of the Chisinau National Opera before this 9 October production. Chisinau (I looked this up) is the capital city of Moldova, and being part of the former Soviet Union, I was quietly confident that they would be good. Again, my expectations were wildly surpassed. Performing opera is more than just having a glass-shattering voice. It requires presence, poise and personality and the Chisinau cast had all these attributes in abundance.
The lead roles, Aida (an Ethiopian slave girl) played by Elena Dee, and Rademes (an Egyptian Captain of the Guard) played by Sorin Pupu had great chemistry, and charisma. Sorin’s Ramedes was particularly engaging, with his plaintive John Belushi eyes and expressive movement. But in the singing stakes, Elena’s soprano was nothing short of sensational. Her lissome frame belies a voice that filled every atom of the Empire: pure and powerful yet sweet and seductive.
To give the show a Hackney hallmark, locals people took the the roles of slaves and soldiers. Of particular note were the four schoolgirls who expertly performed an Egyptian dance, to a round of spontaneous applause.
Aida is a tale of doomed romance, jealousy and terrible revenge. As a reward for his success in battle, Rademes hopes to be free to marry Aida, with whom he is madly in love, and who is in love with him. Unfortunately, he is betrothed to Amneris, the Pharoah’s daughter who loves him deeply.
On discovering that she has a love rival, Amneris lays a trap that leads to Ramedes betraying his country, being caught, and being buried alive as punishment. Aida, unable to face life without him, secretes herself in the burial vault to share his fate. Well, no one sees Verdi for laughs.
Note to self: make any excuse to see a show at the Empire. This venue may be 112-years-old, but its output is as fresh as the morning dew. Here’s to the next 112.
By David Roberts