For most of its history, opera has been and continues to be a very exclusive art form. With most of the world’s glittering opera houses found almost exclusively in major metropolises, it’s only a small segment of the population who by dint of location, financial means, and education can get out to experience opera regularly. This reviewer would argue that it’s a good thing whenever more people get to interact with an art form that’s new to them, and it’s even better when said art form is opera – a medium known for its elitism and exclusivity.
It’s in this light that the production of Aida at the New Theatre from Ellen Kent Productions should be viewed first. With a busy tour schedule making stops in towns like Hull, Cork, Aberdeen, and Buxton (and, of course, Oxford) this tour is able to bring the art of opera to audiences who may not otherwise get a chance to experience it. Judging by the sizable audience at Saturday’s press showing at the New Theatre, there’s obviously demand for it. So to the extent that it opens opera up and makes it a little more accessible, it’s a good piece of work.
As noble of an intention as that is, however, the show was interesting for mostly all the wrong reasons on Saturday night. Without a doubt, the most surreal sections were those in which the directors chose to fill otherwise lovely musical interludes with long, inexplicable dance routines featuring girls aged 12 to 15. When these unexpected tweens came out the first time wearing some of ancient Egypt’s most original folk costumes and performed what appeared to be a May Day dance, I was mystified, but perhaps willing to write it off. When they came out again clad in what appeared to be junior-sized costumes for concubines from Aladdin, I threw in the towel.
Nor should the show’s similarly arresting pyrotechnics be overlooked. The poster for the production advertised “AMAZING FIRE EFFECTS!” very proudly, and any flame-happy operagoers last night will not easily forget the second act. Nor will anyone else, for that matter, since the smell of burning kerosene tends to linger. For the record, the promised “amazing fire effects” included four burning torches and a performer swinging balls of fire on a string dangerously close to his face. The “amazing fire effects” concluded with their pièce de résistance, when ten jets of flame burst up from the front of the proscenium for about five seconds. Perhaps most impressively, the performers then resumed the libretto after this largely context-free interlude without batting an eye-lid.
Many other things went unexplained for the production—the nearly exclusively Moldovan cast and orchestra, an unfortunate tween bikini mishap, and the commendable but questionable amount of thigh visible on the male lead. More should perhaps be said about the music quality (fair, with Olga Perrier holding her own in the title role), the set (simply designed, decently ornate), or the chorus (100% Moldovan), but let’s face it—you just wanted to know about the amazing fire effects.