Deutsche Oper Berlin: “Aida”

Deutsche Oper Berlin – Season 2015/2016
Opera lirica in four acts. Libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni
Music by Giuseppe Verdi
The King of Egypt ANTE JERKUNICA
Voice of the High Priestess ADRIANA FERFEZKA
Chor Chor der Deutschen Oper Berlin
Orchester Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin
Conductor Andrea Battistoni
Chorus William Spaulding
Production Benedikt von Peter
Stage Katrin Wittig
Costumes Lene Schwind
Video Bert Zander
Berlin, 22nd November 2015
Aida by Giuseppe Verdi is undoubtedly one of the most  popular operas ever and a guaranteed success in the repertory of every opera house. I wonder if the Deutsche Oper Berlin did itself a favour to have Benedikt von Peter produce it. I am a bit doubtful to put it mildly. Von Peter reduces the plot to a “ménage à trois” between Aida, Radames and Amneris set on the cover of the orchestra pit in front of a gauze curtain with the orchestra seated behind it on the main stage. According to the programme booklet the producer refers to the composer’s alleged affair with the Bohemian soprano Teresa Stolz whose voice he had written the title role for and whose frequent and sometimes long stays at Sant’Agata annoyed Giuseppina Strepponi. As interesting and aspiring this approach is, von Peter hardly takes up the chance and gets lost in commonplaces: the housewife Amneris brings Radames tea and newspapers, makes sandwiches with traditional German sausage to feed them to him, clears the table etc. Radames virtually makes a fool of himself. Aida is a phantom of his fantasy he dreams of all the time by means of a copy of her tulle dress, old postcards of Egypt and a travel guide. I am sorry to say that Verdi was neither
an obsessed dreamer nor an unsympathetic loser and Teresa Stolz a real person who became a kind of muse for the composer in whatever way: platonic or romantic. The desperate struggle of Amneris for Radames’s love seems to be more credible even though Giuseppina would probably not have fought with kitchen knifes or trays of dishes to be smashed on the ground in the end. Her employing a newspaper as a pharaoh’s crown is in fact not a great idea and makes her look like a meat saleswoman from Russia. The Spartan stage design is by Katrin Wittig and the plain costumes by Lene Schwind. I wonder how much was spent on the videography by Bert Zander. There are old-fashioned black and white monitors all around showing lively faces. The producer only seems to know why. All that is made even worse by the lack of any Personenregie. The characters scarcely interact, Aida and Radames sing next to each other without any relationship even at the tragical end. All the other members of the cast do not appear on stage. They sing out of the dark from either side of the auditorium or the circles. That may still work for the High priest Ramfis or the King of Egypt but the dispute between Aida and her father Amonasro is not intelligible like that with all its personal conflicts and consequences. Even the chorus members are spread amongst the audience. That implies a new and quite impressing musical experience of the opera. I wonder if the producer had something of the kind in mind. It is like a sound pyramide. The orchestra behind the singers means no harm to them. They are vocally very present, audible in every respect and you will get all the musical beauty of the work in a direct and non-artificial way. Of course it is a special challenge for the conductor to hold the orchestra in front of and the singers plus chorus behind him together and the young Andrea Battistoni does a great job indeed. His approach to the score is straightforward rather than spophisticated but that is what Italian opera is supposed to be like. The Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin is amazingly exact under his baton and its voluptuous and luxurious sound constrasts the meager scenary on stage. In some way I had the impression I saw two different works at the same time: Verdi’s masterpiece musically and scenically, an undefined chamber play for three actors. The Chor der Deutschen Oper under the masterful chorus master William Spaulding sang powerfully in the great mass scenes and with all delicacy when it came to it. It is a pity that due to the producer’s modest concept, there were not any ballett scenes that Verdi had integrated into the score so brilliantly. They were reduced to inappropriate interludes. Vocally it was a magnificent night. Tatiana Serjan in the title role has a real Verdian soprano reminding of a mix of Leontyne and Margaret Price. Her emission is effortless and she manages both dramatic and lyrical passages perfectly well. The voice sounds warm and homogenous from top notes to the lower range and there is not any doubtful moment of vocal insecurity. The often dreaded C in “O cieli azzurri” is just terrific. A wonderful performance in face of the weak production in which she could not develop any real feelings towards her partners! Another plus is Anna Smirnova‘s Amneris. She seems to have put up with the role of Radames’s jealous (house-)wife and sang for her life with a plush and at times appropriately metallic mezzosoprano in the best Russian tradition mixing Irina Arhkipova and Elena Obraztsova’s voices. Alfred Kim as Radames is not quite up to the standard of his female partners but sings every note to at least vocally put up the hero who he is not allowed to be in this production. The brilliant baritone Markus Brück from the company of the opera house excels in the role of Amonasro with splendid notes. It is a shame he can only sing but not act in this part. The same applies to the profound and vibrant bass of Simon Lim whose Ramfis is most striking. The company’s extraordinary bass Ante Jerkunica follows suit as Il Re and convinces vocally in the same way. The young tenor Attilio Glaser and the Polish soprano Adriana Ferfezka complete the cast competently as Messaggero and Sacerdotessa, respectively. The production proves how far state subsidized opera may get without setting appropriate limits to the producer who was largely booed with his team while all of the musical cast were highly acclaimed by the audience at the end. Photo Marcus Lieberenz