This was my first visit ever to the ENO so first some generic considerations.
Oh man, London Coliseum is huge. Really huge. I was expecting something like a mid-size opera theatre, as the Komische Oper in Berlin. But not. It’s huge. Interior is mixed, with narrow rooms and bars with a look of the late 90’s fitting into a old-fashioned-theatre-but-renewed. The hall decoration is kind of exuberant and the stalls seats/disposition are the ugliest I have ever seen. On the other hand, view and acoustics were superb, even on my cheap £10 balcony ticket. At some points I asked myself if there was a electronic acoustics reinforcement system in the hall.
The English thing
I had my concerns about listening to Italian/French operas sung in English. Mostly because they could sound too weird to me because I know some of them from memory in their original language. And also I was a little bit scared about translation losing the poetry-music bind. After this performance I still have those concerns but they have less weight on my overall experience.
Another debate is why ENO is still doing this. On a world with surtitles translating the singing is not needed anymore to understand the drama. Also, in a world dominated by pop-singing style English native speakers still have problem to understand what is sung in operatic style even if sung in English.
And now, the review :)
Fist Act: empty stage covered by curtain allowing us to see only a big prism. Characters entering and leaving the stage from the sides. I was really scared about this being a cardboard production with dumb actors direction. Fortunately the curtain opened to show an imaginative set design and wonderful costumes and accessories.
We could define the production as a classic setting combined with multi-temporal costumes. Soldiers in the triumphal march looked, for example, as soldiers from a North Korean-alike country army, while Ethiopian prisoners looked more like UN soldiers in the middle East. There wasn’t, however, any kind of parallel drama being told on the scene, neither any kind transposition of the action to another place/situation. Production design intention was just to have colorful elements and work on the basic drama. The only exception could be the coffins brought during the triumphal march.
And it worked. Intelligent actors direction and acting helped to make the drama a real thing. Only the final act was weaker in the storytelling sense: if failed to transmit the ending at the same level the music does.
Latonia Moore as Aida was amazing. She has the perfect voice for this role and she projects all the physique on it. Very good phrasing and vocal line delivering a stunning, brilliant and powerful singing. She rocked hard.
Gwyn Hughes Jones was more a lyric Radames than a heroic one. An approach that is perfectly valid. Forget about the virile hero shouting high Cs. His portrayal was built from the intention and meanings. Nice legatto and expressive singing. I like him a lot.
Biggest problem of the cast was Michelle DeYoung as Amneris. She failed mostly on the vocal aspect of the character, being totally exhausted at the end of some of her scenes.
The rest of the cast was ok-ish. Nothing brilliant but nothing disturbing. The choir singing was great, a little bit overwhelming at some moments, like if they wanted to show something. Some minor mismatches in a couple of entrances that probably will be fixed as performances go on.
Keri-Lynn Wilson did an energetic conducting, very dramatic and idiomatic to Verdi. The only drawback could be the final scene not being delicate and moving enough.
So yes, I will come back to the ENO many times this year.