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Aida, Verdi
D: Franco Zeffirelli
C: Daniel OrenMarco Armiliato
Intimate Grandeur: Aida at the Arena di Verona

Verdi – Aida Aida – María José Siri Il Re – Romano Dal Zovo Amneris – Olesya Petrova Radamès – Murat Karahan Amonasro – Sebastian Catana Ramfis – Park Jongmin Un Messaggero – Francesco Pittari Sacerdotessa – Yao Bohui Pianist – Patrizia Quarta Coro dell’Arena di Verona / Diego Matheuz. Video design & digital scenography – D-WOK. Arena di Verona, Verona, Italy. Thursday, July 15th, 2021. Tonight, was something of a very different evening. My first visit to the Arena di Verona to see Aida. The Arena is a legendary venue and the excitement of being able to see opera in a Roman amphitheatre is something that is difficult to put into words. The sheer scale of the venue is breathtaking and the magic of seeing singers at work under the Veronese night something very real. Of course, with the current sanitary restrictions this was never going to be a typical evening at the Arena. FFP2 masks were compulsory and spaces on the famous steps, the Gradinate, at the top of the Arena were numbered, rather than the traditional first come, first served. Still, the atmosphere was electric – with ambulant salespeople going around the crowd before the show and during the intermission selling cushions, drinks, program books and libretti. Unfortunately, the sanitary restrictions were not the only change this evening. Due to a labour dispute, at the performance start time of 21:00 we were informed that the orchestra would not play and that there would be reduced choral forces. The performance was given with piano accompaniment by maestro collaborator Patrizia Quarta, a chorus of 25, and the spectators who chose to stay for the show were offered a full refund. It’s unclear what the exact nature of the labour dispute was, although the harpist in the temple of Phtà and the trumpeters in the triumphal scene did show up for work. Thus, this wasn’t the full Arena experience, and it would be hard to assess the performance fully as a result. I wanted to experience sitting in the Gradinate and the view was indeed spectacular. What was noticeable is how well the voices carried. Hearing an unamplified voice in a space like this is something truly extraordinary and yes, while I regret not being able to have the full Arena experience, it was undoubtedly still memorable. Of course, one doesn’t go to the Arena for insightful Regietheater. As a result of the current sanitary restrictions, the chorus was parked at the side of the stage, dressed in black, while the principals acted out their roles on the stage in front of video projections showing various bits of Egyptian imagery. The most notable was in Act 3 with a crescent moon over the Nile which contrasted nicely with the Veronese night above. The ballet and masked extras provided visual interest, throwing themselves around in formation to offer various images of triumph, warfare and associated emotions. In the temple of Phtà, the extras were ranged around the back holding lights which also offered an impressive sight. Direction of the singers basically involved asking them to emote grandly to reach those in the highest gradinate, lots of outstretched arms, and staring into the extensive distance. Hard to fully evaluate Diego Matheuz’ tempi as, given that a single piano was in no way a substitute for a full orchestra in terms of sustaining power, but they seemed sensible enough. The chorus was enthusiastic in their reduced numbers, although it sounded as if there were no first tenors. Tuning and blend were admirable, and the reduced forces still managed to carry with enough power into the Arena – one could only imagine the impact with four times that number. Quarta more than deserved her post-performance prosecco and she rightly granted a huge standing ovation from the Arena public. María José Siri offered us a passionate Aida. The voice tends to hardness in its highest reaches, although that could be simply be as a result of feeling a need to fill the vast space. She sang her ‘o patria mia’ with generous feeling, no pulling back for the high C which is a bit of a shame because in the final duet, she floated some magical lines and had no issues being heard. Murat Karahan offered a robust and virile Radamès. Again, his ‘celeste Aida’ was sung with a tremendous amount of volume, the closing diminuendo not attempted. The voice is bulky but loses body higher up. He did give us some genuine soft singing in the closing duet, pulling back on the tone nicely (no crooning unlike a certain Bavarian). He could certainly be a very useful artist in these roles. Olesya Petrova was terrific value as Amneris. She made much of the text – the words always clear. She has a magnificently full chest register, which she wasn’t afraid to exploit, and the registers were well integrated. In the judgment scene she also sang with generous force, giving us all she had – the closing high A absolutely massive. Sebastian Catana sang Amonasro in a baritone with a firm column of sound, although the tone was quite grainy and lacking in body at the top. Park Jongmin sang Ramfis in a huge bass of impressive resonance and tonal beauty, while Romano Dal Zovo sang il Re with a velvety bass that also carried well. Some mixed feelings, then, about tonight. While it was a genuine treat to be able to attend this legendary venue and have the experience of sitting high up and experiencing a show in this historic amphitheatre, it is tinged with regret that there was no orchestra. That said, I am full of gratitude for the chorus, ballet and principals, not to mention the pianist, who ensured that we got an evening of high drama despite the circumstances.

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16 July 2021operatraveller.com
The Arena celebrates its 100th birthday

The Arena di Verona is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and having opened the season with a somewhat controversial new production of Aida by the Spanish group La Fura dels Baus, it has now reverted to a reconstruction of the original 1913 production for the final seven performances of this opera. Aida was the first opera to be performed at the Arena in 1913 produced by the tenor Giovanni Zenatello, and has been recreated here by Gianfranco de Bosio. It is an attractive, traditional production as you would expect and makes full use of the Arena's large stage, evoking Egypt of the Old Kingdom with its statues, obelisks, sphinxes and lavish costumes. The triumphal scene literally seems to consist of a cast of thousands spread to the very heights of the Arena, including four horses and a colourful ballet choreographed by Susanna Egri. It offers spectacle where required and detailed settings for the more intimate scenes - the Nile scene is particularly evocative. However at the end of the day, irrespective of how much spectacle there is, Aida is a story about love, patriotism and human emotions making it a difficult opera to bring off dramatically with the need to juxtapose its differing elements. Part of the problem lies in the fact that it has four acts and with three intervals and scene changes within the acts it runs for over four hours - with only just over two and a quarter hours of actual music. As a result dramatic tension is lost over the long evening, which is a shame given that the musical standards here are very high. Fiorenza Cedolins both excites and frustrates as Aida. Much of her singing is a joy to listen to and she projects the character effectively, but there is a tentativeness about her performance. She seems to prefer to float the high notes at pianissimo suggesting fragility and vulnerability, rather than attack them, and while this works most of the time, there are many moments when you really just want a bit more. There needs to be an inner strength in Aida which is lost here. Marco Berti has a voice that is ideally suited to the Arena, his strong ringing tenor a perfect match for Radames. If his 'Celeste Aida' is a little tentative and cautious, he soon warms up to deliver an exciting, if somewhat unsubtle, performance. Violeta Urmana is a powerful Amneris. While she has placed an emphasis lately on singing soprano roles this mezzo part is much more suited to her voice which has a dark, lustrous hue to it. She is able to inject anger and passion into her interpretation which reaches its climax thrillingly in the final act confrontation with Radames. The remaining roles are all strongly sung: Ambrogio Maetsri is luxury casting as Amonasro, while Orlin Anastassov's Ramfis and Carlo Cigni's King both impress. Daniel Oren is an energetic conductor clearly enjoying leading the massed forces both in the pit and onstage. The brass section certainly gets their chance to shine in Aida and do so with aplomb. However, ultimately Oren's approach to the score is a little too middle-of-the-road to be dramatically effective. So, a long evening. While there was much to enjoy during the performance with some fine singing, the whole proved to be less than the sum of its parts. Nevertheless there was much to celebrate as the Arena looks back on the last 100 years, and no doubt also to an illustrious future. One wonders if the La Fura dels Baus production of Aida will be revived in 2113?

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10 August 2013theoperacritic.comMichael Sinclair
Tosca, Puccini
D: Mario Pontiggia
C: Daniel OrenLorenzo Passerini
Tosca in all its glory at Teatro Regio Torino

The production, directed by Mario Pontiggia with sets and costumes by Francesco Zito, originated at the Teatro Massimo in Palermo. It is a stunningly beautiful, richly detailed re-creation of the three locations in Rome where the tragedy unfolds. The dresses of the heavily veiled women who crowded the church and Tosca’s second act gown and sparkling jewels, complete with tiara, were the most sumptuous of the costumes. When Tosca’s shadow suddenly appeared on the wall as she placed candles and a crucifix over Scarpia’s body, the man sitting next to me shuddered. It is of such details that memorable operatic performances are made. I have heard Marcello Álvarez many times, but never experienced him performing with such carefree abandon. Sleeker these days, he emanated a youthful energy but, more importantly, he made the audience see Tosca through his eyes: passionate, jealous and alluring. His Cavaradossi was vocally and dramatically impetuous and daring; as to the former, he may be throwing caution to the wind, but the result is thrilling. Ambrogio Maestri’s Scarpia can only be described as massive in temperament, voice and person, yet there was a delicacy to his performance. His Scarpia was a connoisseur of cruelty and capable of expressing it in the most subtle of manners, unless more drastic measures were needed. Oren had missed the first four performances of the run due to health reasons, but he was in fine form for these two. His verismo is the stuff of raw meat being thrown to the lions at one end of the spectrum and champagne at the other. His broadest musical brush strokes, as well as his most sensitive shadings, came from the orchestra and chorus, who responded brilliantly to the frantic beating of his baton and grunts and shouts that could be heard throughout the house. All of Rome may have trembled before Scarpia, but Oren can make the earth move.

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10 October 2019seenandheard-international.comRick Perdian

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