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The Metropolitan Opera

In Review Met Aida hdl 1218
Diva power: Anita Rachvelishvili and Anna Netrebko in Aida
© Beatriz Schiller

ANNA NETREBKO isn’t the most philosophical of singers, and up until this point, that hasn’t really mattered. Her soprano, a thing of rare beauty, sounds as if it’s resonating in a crystal dome, unleashing surges of focused color. Her stage presence, no news here, is ravishing. She has an instinct for phrasing that seldom fails her; she seems to feel the melody as it emerges from her throat, intuitively shading the notes. And her voice has always been strong and resilient, seldom revealing limitations in size.

All of these qualities were on display at various points during the Metropolitan Opera’s first performance of Aida this season, on September 26. It was Netrebko’s house debut of a role she first sang in Salzburg in 2017. But unlike the other Verdi roles Netrebko has assayed—Gilda, Violetta, the Trovatore Leonora and Lady Macbeth—there is a level of abstraction to the tragic Ethiopian-princess-turned-slave that Netrebko didn’t quite catch. The opera is a four-act study in love versus duty, and the best exemplars of the role, such as Leontyne Price, create the aural equivalent of a heart riven in two by political intrigue, like a body unable to fight an invading virus. 

In “Ritorna vincitor,” Netrebko’s voice sounded unremarkable and inflated beyond its natural size, though never less than attractive. She still managed to communicate a sense of disbelief and disgust at herself for condemning her countrymen. It was her “O patria mia,” in which the soprano delivered the sequence of soft high notes with prismatic beauty, that reminded the audience that it was in the presence of a star.

Georgian mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili has delivered on the buzz that accompanied her La Scala debut in Carmen, in 2009. Here, she gave a fascinating performance as Amneris. Her voice—smooth, round and sizable—moved like a python through her music. As a vocalist, she clearly has the goods to snarl and bite in typical dramatic-mezzo fashion, but her Amneris had the hauteur of someone who didn’t feel the need to follow through on the threat. The ends of phrases, full of plush tone, dropped quietly from her lips, as if landing on one of the Egyptian princess’s silk pillows. In the crucial judgment scene, Rachvelishvili’s Amneris was a woman wracked by spasms of guilt as well as love, filling the vastness of the temple around her with uncontainable feeling. In a way, that scene explained Sonja Frisell’s 1988 production, with its towering pyramids and stone statues: at their most tragic, these characters can rise to the heights of passion before receding again to human form.

Latvian tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko was in ghastly voice in Act I, but he found the right focus for his monumental sound in Acts III and IV, revealing the might of a warrior. As Amonasro, Quinn Kelsey sang with the grace of a king in his Act II monologue and raged with the inner fire of a cornered general and desperate father in his Act III duet with Aida. His voice became somewhat diffuse in the drama’s most intense moments, but it made a kind of sense—a sign of a vulnerable man running out of options.

Nicola Luisotti’s conducting was full of finesse. Recitatives had the long, confident shape of mini-arias, the percussion was well drilled, and the onstage trumpet players for the triumph march were shiny and unshakable. The orchestra was so well oiled, the crescendos so well timed, that one could forgive, if not entirely forget, the fact that pure beauty of sound sometimes took a back seat to the grandness of the drama. —Oussama Zahr

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