Sunday, June 07, 2009

A Night at the Opera

Two weeks ago, I joined several friends, including Little One and Adelpha, for an evening of culture, music, and dance. The Cairo Opera Company was staging the famous opera Aida and, we were told, there were still tickets available. Although Hubby was unable to go (he was busy with elective open heart surgery, exams, and washing his hair) I was thrilled to be included.

The chance to see an opera about Egypt, that was first performed in Egypt, while I was living in Egypt was too much to pass up. So that Tuesday night we all got dolled up and set out for the theatre. I was surprised to hear there were so many seats available for what I felt was an rare cultural opportunity.

Cribbing from the notes in the program a little, Aida is an opera in four acts by Giuseppe Verdi (Rigoletto, La Traviata,) with an Italian libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni. This opera was first performed here in Cairo at the Khedivial Opera House on December 24, 1871. That opera house was later turned into a parking lot but the new one is lovely and more than up to the task of staging this revival.

Verdi’s opera tells the tragic story of Aida, an Ethiopian princess, who is captured and made a slave in Egypt. She falls in love with Radames, a military commander, who struggles to choose between his love for Aida and his loyalty to the Pharaoh. Since love is never any fun unless three people are involved, the Pharaoh’s daughter Amneris is also in love with Radames who doesn’t exactly return her feelings.

Before I go into the negatives of the night, let me first mention the things I loved. Despite amusing details like the Colossus of Memnon being on the banks of the Nile, the sets were flat out amazing. The costumes were equally sumptuous if slightly ill tailored for some of the performers.

The symphony was fantastic and truly shone during Aida’s famous Triumphal March. I don’t think I was the only one humming along to this majestic piece of orchestration.

The soprano who sang the part of Aida, Julie Karagouni, was fantastic. I have read reviews that indicated that her Typ0-esque size deterred from people’s ability to see her as the heroine, and I have to disagree with those narrow minded people. The singer’s voice was exquisite and she was one of the few people up there trying to act.

Which brings us to some of the not-so-good parts of this almost amateurish production. There was the crew who could be seen running around backstage; the rather unimpressive tenor, Walid Korayem, who played the hero, Radames; and the initially disappointing performance of Amneris. The latter was swapped out in the final act due to health concerns and replaced by a fantastic singer named Dragana del Monaco.

As Little One noted, Egypt isn’t exactly famous for its male ballet dancers, which must be why the choreographer seemed to give the men very basic steps or strength work to perform. I love ballet and was greatly disappointed by the choreography in general.

Despite the uneven performances, I had a fabulous time out with my friends. Attending the opera is something everyone should do at least once. You may not like it in the end, but at least you can say you tried. That said, I guarantee that if you try it at least once, the thrill that goes through you when a great soprano holds an impossible note for an impossibly long time will stay with you forever.

All of which brings us to the biggest “Oh my God is that what I think it is” moment of the evening. Since I think it deserves more than just a paragraph, you’ll have to check back tomorrow to read about the moment that left everyone scratching their heads.

(I should note that none of today’s photos were taken by me since cameras are verboten in the theatre. That, naturally, must be why we heard cameras going off almost constantly during the performance. But given my history with forbidden photography, I decided not to risk taking my own camera out. Sorry!)

24 comments:

Casey (@ Ever-Changing Life) said...

Sorry it was disappointing, it sure seemed like it would be awesome.

GutsyWriter said...

I've never been to the Opera, but I lived one through your vivid description. I think I would have enjoyed the male ballerinas.

LadyFi said...

Aw - what a shame that it was an uneven performance.

I love opera and my parents took me to see my very first one when I was only about 8 yrs old. We were living in Buenos Aires at the time and the name of my very very first opera ever was... Aida!

Such great memories!

Bluefish said...

I read Opera acts when I was a child and Aida was one of them. Although I never attended Opera but I'd love to go one day:)

ms four said...

I wouldn't go see I Aida because I've been warned I would be extremely disappointed at the portrayal of Ethiopians as stereotypical "African savages."

Am I anticipating your next post, perhaps?

G in Berlin said...

I saw Aida at the Met and thought it was fabulous. I didn't think the portrayal of Ethiopians was denigratory at all, any more than that of the Romans in Caesar and Cleopatra.But there were no ballet steps at the met, and even where there is clear choreography (really, it all looks like extremely coordinated people and animals), there is never ballet.
People were disappointed at the size of singers? Spoiled. It used to be traditional to have very large singers, only recently has the more athletic type come in (I think because the choreography and costumes are now so demanding).
I hope you did enjoy it.

ms four said...

G in Berlin, I've heard this in regards to the production of Aida *in Cairo*.

Jacki said...

Oh now that would be awesome to see, even if the choreography as a little disappointing.

DiPaola Momma said...

Aida is one of those Operas that is either amazing or not so. I've seen it three times. Most reciently in Florence were you would have THOUGHT it would have.. um ROCKED.. nope. The best was at a school for the arts in California. who'd a thunk, no? But look at it like this my typo daaarrrrling.. at leat you can SAY you got to see it IN EGYPT! WOW!!!

Lydia said...

I saw Madama Butterfly at the Cairo Opera and it was thrilling, even thought I couldn't understand anything. The opera in Italian, yes, I understand. The one night I choose to go? No english subtitles, just Arabic... my work-weary, unenthusiastic husband suddenly perked up and loved the chance to read some Arabic. It was great b/c we switched seats so he could see the subtitles and whisper the lines in my ear. And three hours, yes I can handle that. The opera that didn't start until 9pm? Us driving home in bumper to bumper traffic at 1am. Like you said, you gotta do it once!!

Gaston Studio said...

So sorry your experience wasn't top notch. I was living in Cairo when the new opera house was finished and we attended several performances there.

What was fantastic, was attending a production of Aida at the Giza Pyramids with a famous Italian company (of course, I don't remember their name!) but it was totally professional and awesome! You would have loved it.

Caution Flag said...

I am pathetically unsophisticated, but maybe if I read enough blogs things will balance out.

Anonymous said...

I'll wait to comment until tomorrow's post....:)
I think I might know what's coming.
merthyrmum

Jemma Ruby said...

Gotta love the egyptians! They do everything with gusto, even their awkward moments on stage!

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

My daughter is a music (voice) major and as such has introduced me to the world of opera.

Loved your review. Very vivid.

Kat said...

I love opera. Love it. And had to rope my husband into going to the opera with me. Which wasn't very difficult as we were given free tickets to Tosca. And in hindsight...was probably not a good choice for his first foray. I haven't been able to get him to go back.

Except that he will soon. As our daughter is singing with the Atlanta opera next weekend in their performance of Carmen Burina...

Sturgmom said...

So the Egyptian Opera is not the 8th wonder of the world? Glad you had a good time anyway! I've always wanted to see Aida. I'm not a big opera fan, but I've heard that's a great one!

the ungourmet said...

I have never been to an opera. I would love to see one sometime. I guess I won't include this one on my list of Must Sees!

The Blonde Duck said...

I've never been to the opera, but that sounds like such fun!

Betty said...

I´m not a fan of Opera and haven´t been to one either. But your encouragement to try it, made me want to. Except we don´t have any here...
Glad you at least had a good time with your friends!

Katherine Aucoin said...

I look forward to going to the opera although I've only been twice. Sorry that you were disappointed this time.

Kathy B! said...

What a shame that the performance wasn't more memorable. But at least you were with good friends. That seems to heal all sins...

Brenda said...

I love those little productions, sometimes the little foibles make them more endearing.

NicoleB said...

Well, at least you had a good night out :D