Amal Choucri Catta celebrates yet another production of Verdi's Aida
Opera Aida by Giuseppe Verdi, director Abdalla Saad with Cairo Opera Company, opera orchestra conductor Elio Orciuolo, opera choir director Aldo Magnato and choreographers Abdel Moneim and Erminia Kamel. Venue: COH Main Hall, 6,7,8 and 9 December
Aida, celebrated slave girl, daughter of the Ethiopian king, was home again, last week. She was back for four nights at Cairo opera's Main Hall where she is being regularly applauded, every Season. She is one of Verdi's many darlings, though she has always been a very special lady in his life. Her birth was subjected to a number of complications and delays, and when she was finally given life at Cairo's old opera house on 14 December 1871, she was instantly famous. As years went by, her fame soared to fabulous heights and she is considered to this day as an important member of "grand opera" in the classic sense of the term.
Last week's "Aida", however -- with the opera orchestra conducted by Elio Orciuolo, a large choir and the ballet company performing lovely dances choreographed by Abdel Moneim and Erminia Kamel -- had all the trimmings of a spectacular extravaganza, though the work obviously lacked most of the good voices. Which brings us once again to what we have been preaching throughout the past years: not every soprano can be Aida, neither can every mezzo-soprano be Amneris, nor every tenor Radames or every bass the Pharaoh. We have furthermore been asking why are all first- class performers, singers and instrumentalists, dancers and musicians, being unfairly treated and thus practically chased away from Cairo's opera house? If Egypt is privileged with the presence of remarkable star performers, why are they being discouraged and replaced by second-cast performers?
Last week's "Aida" gave us vivid examples of miscast singers, such as mezzo-soprano Hala El Shaboury in the role of Amneris on opening night, and another second-cast mezzo, Jolie Faizy in the same role on closing night, while the two intermediate nights were consecutively reserved for the excellent Hanan El Guindy, who has often successfully graced the opera's stage in the role of Amneris, and who would have deserved more appreciation this time. On the other hand it must be said that neither Hala El Shaboury nor Jolie Faizy are ready for such a demanding role, and certainly not on opening or closing nights: their presence on stage is inadequate, their voices lacking in strength and their general performance below standard. Both have a way of constantly trying to stare at the Maestro for their cues, while screaming their high pitches at the top of their voices. Such a demeanor is naturally detrimental to the fluidity of the action and disagreeable to the viewer. Hala El Shaboury would have been well advised to remain second cast as in past performances, while Jolie Faizy should wait a few more seasons before attempting to be cast as Amneris.
Unfortunately, Egypt's singers are in a noxious hurry to reach stardom, regardless of their aptitude: most of the youngsters are not ready for the challenge, though they do not seem to care whether they are ridiculed or not. they are ready to sing anything and everything just to be in the limelight, whereby they forget that real stardom can only be attained through a large amount of serious work and just as much dedication. Among those who have been working hard while being totally devoted to their vocal commitment are stars like bass- baritone Reda El Wakil and baritone Mustafa Mohamed. They worked hard and, furthermore, had the patience to wait: now they belong to the privileged few. Singers of the younger generation should consider them as an example and act accordingly.
At the Main Hall on opening night Italian soprano Barbara Costa gave the audience an entertaining version of Aida: she shared the part respectively with Egyptian soprano Iman Mustafa who has been performing Aida since many years. Italian tenor Alessandro Maffucci was a rather disappointing Radames while Egyptian Walid Korayem, in the same role, is gaining maturity every season. Mustafa Mohamed was a masterful Amonasro, which cannot be said of Alfio Grasso, who has already been cast in different roles at Cairo's Main Hall in past seasons. This time, it seems however, that Amonasro was not to his liking. His timbre was often lacking drama, which must also be said of young bass-baritone Hatem El Guenedy in the role of Pharaoh, which he shared respectively with Abdel Wahab El Sayed who has been performing the part perfectly for many years. Hatem El Guenedy is too young, too gauche and absolutely immature for the part. As for bass- baritone Reda El Wakil, cast as the high- priest Ramfis, he is a fabulous performer on Cairo opera's stage, blessed with a fascinating voice, an enchanting timbre and an astounding presence.
Director Abdalla Saad succeeded in turning the opera into a luxuriant mega- spectacle with abundant sets and often splendid light effects, lavish costumes and a seemingly endless number of archers and lancers marching to the glorious music of Radames' victory. The choir, directed by Aldo Magnato was sensational, except for the part of the priests which was sung in an exaggerated, nearly inaudible pianissimo. The lovely dance of the first act and, later on, the dances of the children and of Radames' glorious return, have undergone certain welcome changes: choreographed by Abdel Moneim and Erminia Kamel, they play an enchantingly dignified part in this super spectacle which all audiences have enjoyed. Hopefully, however, a better and fairer choice of voices will be taking place next season, when Aida will, once more be "home again".