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Review: Verdi’s Aida at the Royal Albert Hall

BY Boon Koh
Published 26 February 2012

The temptation of the Royal Albert Hall’s in-the-round stage and the opera’s famed requirements for a grandiose Egyptian set made Verdi’s Aida at this iconic London venue too much of a temptation to miss.

The only other time I had seen the Royal Albert Hall arena used for an in-the-round production was for Cirque du Soleil, although technically it doesn’t count as it wasn’t a play, and they used more than just the round stage in the middle. In this production of Verdi’s Aida, the set is a modern-day weathered and crumbled archaeological dig location. Why you ask – well, the lens through which this production has re-invented Aida is through the eyes of 1870’s Egyptologist Amelia Edwards, on a dig in Egypt and dreams of what happened there centuries ago.

So apart from this random woman in a Victorian nightgown prancing about on stage mute all throughout the production looking very out of place (and also like a very unwanted extra), this production sticks to the Aida script.

The singing is good – and as it should be, with Catrin Aur in the role of Aida and Jonathan Stoughton in the role of Radames. But the acting is horrific – the wounded messenger from the front line in one of the initial scenes makes a convincing entrance, limping and with some feet dragging. But just before he bursts out his vocals, he straightens up and looks like Usain Bolt ready to run the hundred meters. It is also telling that the most convincing acting actually came from Robert Poulton, in the role of Amonasro. Through the ears came beautiful poetic waxing by the two love birds, but through the eyes came awkward movements and emotion.

Many scenes felt very awkward as though the producers ran out of ideas of how to fill them with action – there were lots of white robed priests just shuffling along which wouldn’t have looked out of place in The Walking Dead. And the choreography during mass group scenes were just horrible – is it that hard to find a group of non-singing extras that can perform in sync?

Luckily, one goes to watch Verdi’s Aida not for the acting nor for the visuals. The singing was good – and the music by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was excellent. And for those who are undecided whether to go for the cheaper Circle seats or shell out for a Stalls ticket, there is really only one answer – spend the £67.50 face value that the Stalls tickets cost, as it really is quite a treat to sit so close to an amazing set, and see the (limited) emotion and acting live.

Verdi’s Aida directed by Stephen Medcalf is showing at the Royal Albert Hall until Sunday, 11th March 2012. Matinees and Evening showings available. Full cast rotation details for Verdi’s Aida available here.

  • Pab27

    it is a good thing most ordinary people are less critical and just enjoyed the performance.

  • @DolceDini

    My thoughts exactly, RPO were superb, but casting, costumes and sub-plot (with odd dithering Egyptologist)  dire…