Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Aida review – a new cast brings musical thrills to The Royal Opera’s revival of Verdi’s epic

17 May 2023

Angel Blue and Elīna Garanča set the Covent Garden stage on fire with their incendiary performances as Aida and Amneris in this star-studded revival of Verdi’s grand opera.


Aida (Photo: Tristram Kenton)

When Robert Carsen’s bleak, totalitarian staging of Verdi’s ‘vocals on the Nile’ opera premiered in September last year it failed to move. I concluded my review: ‘The production returns in the spring with a new conductor, Aida and Amneris. It’ll be fascinating to see what difference they make to the staging.’

In the end, not only did we get the promised new Aida and Amneris, but Covent Garden’s tenor of the moment, SeokJong Baek, replaced the staging’s original Radames, Francesco Meli. To say the results were sensational would be an understatement. Seasoned Aida aficionados were left scratching their heads, and scrambling for superlatives. Depending on who you spoke to, this was the finest Aida cast The Royal Opera had assembled, in 30, 40, or even 50 years. I don’t go back quite that far, but having seen four stagings here, and numerous casts over the years, I had to agree – this was the finest Aida I’d ever seen.

The two singers who had made the strongest impression in the September run had been held over. French baritone Ludovic Tézier once again proved why he has few, if any, revivals in this repertoire – his Amonasro was full-blooded, elegantly phrased and resonantly voiced. Soloman Howard’s rich, sonorous Ramfis was rock solid, and rattled the rafters when required.

Baek was in stunning form – we even got a perfectly etched diminuendo on the top B flat in ‘Celeste Aida’. Elsewhere his clarion tenor had no trouble filling the House, and complete with some aristocratic phrasing, he proved to be the Radames of one’s dreams. As if this weren’t enough, the two ladies vying for his affections, Aida and Amneris, were assigned to two of the most breathtaking singing actors currently before the public.

Angel Blue’s voice has grown dramatically over the last few years, and while she was a touching Violetta in last season’s revival of La traviata, her voice seemed too big for the part. She sounded ready for some heavier assignments, so her success as Verdi’s titular princess came as no surprise.

“…this was the finest Aida I’d ever seen”


Aida (Photo: Tristram Kenton)

There’s plenty of metal in the voice, allowing her to ride the climaxes with apparent ease. The way her laser-like top notes cut through the tumult was viscerally exciting, yet the quieter, more introspective moments were beautifully voiced – her ‘O patria mia’ was achingly poignant, her silvery soprano filling out Verdi’s long phrases.

As her rival, Amneris, Elīna Garanča was a revelation. This fine Latvian mezzo has recently been adding some heavier roles to her repertoire – she was a superb Kundry (Parsifal) in Vienna – so she seemed the perfect fit in this role. Nothing however could have prepared me for the sheer intensity she brought to it, nor the way she poured her whole being into the character. Her rich, fabulously coloured mezzo has never sounded better, and it rang out thrillingly – pinning you to the back of your seat. She tore up the stage, whenever she appeared, and produced some of the most ravishing Verdian singing I’ve ever had the privilege to hear. The audience went wild at her curtain call – one of the loudest, and most deserved ovations I’ve heard at Covent Garden in a long while. Sensational.

In the pit Mark Elder led a loving, though never indulgent, reading of the score, and the orchestra played out of their skins for him. Similarly the augmented chorus not only made a mighty sound in the triumphal scenes, but were mesmerising in the quiet, rapt passages as well. Maybe because The Royal Opera had assembled a perfect Aida cast, Carsen’s staging seemed far more focused, and packed a theatrical punch that had been missing in September. 

There are only a few more performances, but there are several cast changes so check the listings – and if you can get to see this one, go – as you’re unlikely to see a better cast Aida than this.

• Details of future performances can be found here.

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