Oh no! ENO’s Aida is far from fas­ci­nat­ing

The Mail on Sunday - Event - - FILM - DAVID MEL­LOR

There are some good things about this Aida, no­tably the Amer­i­can so­prano La­to­nia Moore in the ti­tle role and the con­duct­ing of the Cana­dian Keri-Lynn Wil­son. But over­all it’s a mess, thanks to the an­tics of the di­rec­tor Phe­lim McDer­mott and his team.

English Na­tional Opera needed a banker. This isn’t it, for the usual rea­son – poor choice of di­rec­tor, plus, of course, in­ad­e­quate su­per­vi­sion of him by ENO’s artis­tic di­rec­tor Daniel Kramer.

Kramer’s Tris­tan for the com­pany was an even big­ger dis­as­ter than this Aida. So him try­ing to sort out McDer­mott is the blind lead­ing the blind.

McDer­mott has made his name in con­tem­po­rary opera a long way away from Aida – the grand­est of grand op­eras and ex­tremely tricky to put on, even by a top class man of the the­atre. McDer­mott’s in­ex­pe­ri­ence is every­where ap­par­ent here. His prin­ci­pal singers just stand and de­liver, which works quite well in the mainly static fi­nal two acts. But the spec­tac­u­lar stuff ear­lier on, like the Grand March, is to­tally be­yond him. The tri­umphal re­turn of the Egyp­tian Army is turned into a fu­neral pro­ces­sion, where, at the end, the coffins are just left lit­ter­ing the stage. What’s all that about?

The im­pres­sion of a mud­dled vil­lage hall show is com­pounded by cos­tumes that look as though they have been dragged out of dress­ing-up boxes. Sup­pos­edly heroic Radamès looks like a Clar­idge’s bell-hop. His in­tended, Am­neris, the am­ply pro­por­tioned Amer­i­can mezzo (yes, another one) Michelle DeYoung, is got up in acres of white voile, like the fairy on top of the Christ­mas tree.

A mass of weirdly at­tired cho­rus mem­bers wan­der around, look­ing like the pa­trons of that bar in Star Wars, lack­ing only Chew­bacca and R2-D2. Then, for a time, it all goes crazily Twen­ties. I ex­pected Florence Foster Jenk­ins to show up at any mo­ment. Moore, how­ever, is one of the finest Ai­das around, and it’s al­most worth en­dur­ing the rest just to hear her. She gets stal­wart sup­port from Gwyn Hughes Jones as Radamès, while Wil­son is a lively pres­ence in the pit. But else­where the cast­ing is way­ward. DeYoung’s stran­gu­lated English vow­els ri­val Dick Van Dyke in Mary Pop­pins.

This is one of nine of­fer­ings from ENO this sea­son. Last year there were only eight. When I was on the Board in the mid-Nineties, ENO put on about 22 shows per sea­son. A cou­ple of years ago they were do­ing 111 per­for­mances. This year it’s 80. How­ever, they get the same Arts Coun­cil grant for 80 nights as they got for 111. Why?

How they are go­ing to fill 16 more per­for­mances of this Aida is be­yond me.

Chief ex­ec­u­tive Cres­sida Pol­lock is mov­ing on. No won­der.

A scene from Aida. In­set below: Gwyn Hughes Jones as Radamès and Matthew Best as The King. Bot­tom: Hughes Jones with La­to­nia Moore as Aida

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