Monday, August 26, 2013

A Love Letter to Anmeris

EDIT; Ok, this was supposed to be a review of the Aida production I saw last week but I got a tad bit overly excited about Amneris so I think the title explains itself, hun?

What a crazy week! Wow, I was practically out of the house for most of it. But now I'm very happy to say that I'm home for at least the weekend. Before I get down to the subject in hand let me just tell you guys that my friend Xenia, who already has ReJoyce in her grasp, tells me that my picture made it to the CD! HUL! I'm very happy about that. I made all sorts of silly ReJoyce marketing this week in college. Wrote “#ReJoyce is Coming” every where chalk would write in. It was fun.

But what I want to talk about is my new found love for Aida. I know what you might be thinking, that I should already love Aida because it´s one of those IT operas, right? Ah well, let me explain myself then. About seven, six years ago an opera company came to Brazil in tour with Aida. I was 16 at the time and absolutely devoted to musical theater and dance. When my grandma invited me I didn't really want to go, but she told me there'd be loads of dancing, so I went. Well, the dancing itself disappointed me thoroughly, but what I think let me down the most was the fact that they were using microphones. Yeah! In opera, heresy! And I also didn't like the fact that Aida and Radames looked like two McDonald's junkies as opposed to fierce Egyptian/Ethiopian lovers. The only thing I liked was Amneris, especially in the final act when in their staging she’d crawl up steps of huge stairs begging for mercy. I LOVED that actually. 

Well back to modern days, last Saturday was the very first time I went to Theatro Municipal, the big opera house here in São Paulo. I have to tell you I was quite taken aback. The place is gorgeous, it really looks like someplace out of a dream or something. Like a palace, just magical! I was actually glad I was alone because then I could explore the whole building and take my time looking at everything. 

Well, I did go to watch this opera twice this week, on that Saturday and last Thursday so I’m going to try and review both performances at once. It was the exact same cast. Aida was played by the Uruguayan soprano  Maria José Siri, Radames was played by the north american tenor Gregory Kunde and Amneris by Tuija Knihtilä who is from Finland.  

On Saturday I sat on an orchestra seat but it was practically by the walls and directly under the boxes so I couldn't see the subtitles. I figured it was a great excuse to practice my Italian so I sat back and relaxed. Now on Thursday I sat on an orchestra level but center seat which was just my piece of cake, 6th row, perfect view of everything.
One good thing about my Saturday location was that I could see the orchestra play, so that was interesting to watch. I find it funny how an opera that is so grand has such a shy overture but I'm not going about to argue with Verdi. Curtain rises and I like what I see, in terms. I’m counting this as my first Aida but even being a newbie to a certain opera I still have historical baggage. The scenery, I think, was appropriate, they were composed by big walls of stone which would move to create different kinds of locations. I found that rather smart and it worked quite well with the lighting design, they were able to create a beautiful atmosphere for the first act finale inside the temple and also a festive and ´grand´ feel to the second act finale.

But, MA, what disappointed me thoroughly in this production was the costume department. I really don't like to criticize especially because I know it's very hard to put up any kind of theatrical performance. But I'm sorry, those costumes looked like something out of a High School production of Aida, the musical. The only costumes that looked the part were Amneris’s. In some cases it seems as if they cut a whole on a piece of eccentric looking fabric and gave it to the chorus to wear. Something that bothered me beyond measure was the fact that the chorus was all dressed in the same costume basically. We had the basses and baritones wearing that said sheet as they were the priests (or something). The tenors wearing clothes that I can't really begin to explain but that were absolutely unflattering to anybodies figure and made them look pregnant. There was a group of about 15 ladies who were wearing a simple blue/greenish dress (the ladies who sang in the second act opening scene). But the other ladies were wearing dresses of the same design in the most horrid khaki color. Egypt must have been in recession and the Princess was the only one who wasn’t informed. The Pharaoh was wearing such simple clothes, I, at first, didn’t realize he was in fact the Pharaoh. I mean it’s Egypt we are talking about, and it’s not nowadays, it’s thousands of years ago, they were in their absolute prime. 

And I know what you might be thinking, who am I to criticize their costumes? Well I’ve worked with the costumes in my theater group for a real long time now and we have a ridiculous budget of $500,00 to buy everything for our plays. From fabrics, to paying the making of the clothes, from scenery to stage objects and let me tell you, some of our costumes are much richer in design and taste than this production's. 

But enough about clothes, the opera itself is so amazing! All of the 3 major singers were in very good shape and I liked what they did with what was given to them. First act with Radames’s opening aria was quite sublime and the audience in both days agreed. One thing I found quite satisfactory was the fact that the house was packed in both days and in both days the applause was absolutely thunderous.

I must admit I'm a big fan of Amneris and also find Aida to be quite dull. Her Ritorna Vincitor was really good but the character never warmed up to me, people on the fence irritate me I guess. And Amneris knows what she wants and is intensively resolute in getting it (aka Radames’s naked body! HA). 

The temple scene was quite beautiful, the production was counting with fine dancers. This scene we had about ten ladies dancing together and a wonderful soloist. Many people have criticized the soloist's costume remarking that she looked like something out of the Avatar movie. But I disagree entirely.  Yes, she was painted in blue, but not for a second did I think of Avatar or Smurfs or The Corpse Bride. I actually thought it worked, it made her stand out a lot and in my conception her character was painted in blue because she was like an oracle or spiritually connected with the Gods or something.

The music composed for this ballet in particular is quite beautiful and what I loved about the choreography was the fact that it was molded in the music. This might sound a bit silly since most choreographies are made based on the music, but I find that the dance told the story of the music, which for me is amazing. I also had never seen so many people on stage in one scene live. Little did I know they'd be able to stuff even more people on that stage on act two. 

Well act two begins and the spot is finally on Amneris, about time! I found it odd how much I adored the music composed for this character, in her scenes and her lines, they just vibrated well with my personal vibrations. It's odd, while Aida or Radames would sing solos it was really wonderful and they were wonderful singers but there was something about Amneris that made me utterly drawn to her. 

The introduction of this scene played by the harp transports you from the depths of the ritual place to a sunny, bright environment where everything seems to be sunshine, cool water and bliss. I might be too crazy but with the harp music I can almost see Amneris lying lazily on overly comfortable cushions while eating grapes and being fanned by huge peacock feathered fans. But in this production she was actually standing and being quite amiable to her female chorus while they sang about Radames. Amneris’s lines were delivered with such heartfelt passion and devotion I couldn't help but warm up to her even more. I mean, she's in love with the guy, she would do everything for him. But what I like the most about her is that she never sets aside her personality for him, she doesn't change for him. Aida does and that's supposed to be our hero, a woman who changes for the likes of a guy. The hero should be the strong women who love and stand their ground with their beliefs. No wonder I'm single hun?   

The ballet for this scene was absolutely adorable. They had six young ones doing what you could call a children's playing choreography. Two girls and four boys played with swords and had a blast of a wonderful time under the watch of the powerful princess. Aida arrives and is left alone with Amneris. Now this duet is quite formidable, love the way Verdi composed the music accompanies Amneris and also her lines. Call me crazy again, but that music sounds like a perfectly poised Egyptian serpent slithering her way into Aida's trust. I find it magical when I can actually grasp how exactly the orchestral music is also telling the story. 

I guess I like Amneris because she's a thoroughly intelligent and perceptive woman, she smells there is something between her lady servant and the high captain of their armies. And since it's such a forbidden love, I'm sure they did their best to hide it, they are not THAT stupid. But even though, Amneris sensed it, because she's smart, perfect modern woman. Plus Aida is also a princess, the least she could do is be more cunning.
Well, Io son l'amica tua. Gee, Amneris is such a Slytherin, she plays Aida like the flute! Tricks her into believing that Radames is dead and then has her answer, Aida does love Radames. Of course she's beyond pissed, how dare Aida have feelings for him? Am I an awful person for thinking that this scene is awesome? Well I don't care, I love it. Amneris wants to show Aida her place so she makes her go to the big festivity that is celebrating Radames’s victorious return.

The music here is also first rate, GLORIA ALL'EGGITO. Oh man, I can't believe I didn't watch this opera before. It's so cool! We have the entire chorus and all the characters on stage at the begging of this scene. As the victorious arrive more and more people fill the stage, dancers and actors. The ballet was gorgeous! This time we had couples dancing to a choreography that looked like a dancy fight. There was a soloist couple who danced extremely well to again very well choreographed modern ballet dance.

The Pharaoh gave Amneris’s hand in marriage to Radames as a gift for saving the country, which made her even more smug and confident, gotta love her! They bring in the war prisoners and amongst them is Aida’s father, who is actually the king of the Ethiopians but passes as a simple soldier. Radames urges the Pharaoh to free the prisoners and after some turmoil he does free them but keeps Aida and her father as hostages.    

Well the most loud and amazing end of act I ever saw in a live opera! It was so loud and wonderful that a couple that was sitting in my box on Saturday actually went home because they thought it was over! I'm so not making that up! Well as usual the intermission flew by and before I knew it the lights dimmed and we were back in ancient Egypt.

I must confess that although the music is gorgeous and the singers were spectacular I missed two things in act three. One of them you must have guessed was Amneris and the other was the big chorus numbers with the catchy melodies. Radames has asked Aida to meet him in secret in the middle of the night. Her father reaches her first and asks her to have Radames tell her where he's leading his troupes. When she denies him that, he grows angry and tells her she's no daughter of his, she's an Egyptian slave now. Again, in the fence Aida irritates me, make up your mind with what you want, not what your father or lover tell you to do. Aida does give in into her father's wishes and as he hides, Radames arrives.

She convinces him to run away and all that jazz, and at first Radames doesn't really want to leave. That's the thing about these epic love stories, people are willing to give up what makes them happy for the sake of being with another person who makes them happy, and at the end of the day they mostly end up dying. I think there's a message there that not many people grasp. It's no use looking for your own happiness in other people, you have to be happy with yourself in order to be able to give happiness to another. I think that's why Radames is so full of love to give to Aida, he's so happy! He just had his life's dream come true, he led the army he had always wanted to command into a glorious victory and saved his patria. It's like working on something you absolutely love and getting that promotion you always dreamed of and thriving beyond your expectations! It's amazing!

Jesus, I'm so getting off topic here! And you guys must think I'm a huge self centered monster, I'm just career driven I guess. Well the plans don't work out very well though. Amneris discovers them and as Aida and her father escape, the guards seize Radames as a traitor.

Now fourth act is AWESOME. You remember that scene I liked way back in 2006 when I first saw this opera? It happened again. Things didn't really go as Amneris had planned, Aida escaped (that bitch) and Radames is to be judged as a traitor. Amneris wants him so bad that she's willing to try and help him in his trial. She calls on him in prison and offers her help and his life, because yeah, he's gonna be sentenced to death if she doesn't intervene. But then comes in love struck tenor who can't think of anybody else but the soprano while the mezzo tries her best to help him. Typical opera! It's so funny I say this since I'm a soprano. 

Radames does irritate me at this point. He's accepted he's going to die and doesn't want any help. While Amneris declares her love to him and tries to spare his life. Heartless prick! But again she's not willing to lower herself or compete with anyone. She tells Radames she will spare him if he NEVER sees Aida again. Something he doesn't agree to do. Something quite awful he says is that he's not afraid of death, he's only afraid of her pity. Ouch, that must have hurt. There was actual fire on Tuija's eyes as she tried to convince him to speak up in his own defense so he wouldn't be sentenced to death. Love, lust, hatred, anger, everything, gee, that woman was out of this world amazing!

As he leaves, Amneris is left alone and we can hear Radames’s trial happening off stage. That, I think is one of my favorite parts in the entire opera. It's quiet and intense, as the high priest asks Radames about his crimes, Amneris listens horrified as Radames remains silent. Her, “Ah pietà... egli è innocente... lo salvate, Numi, pietà!” were so heartfelt and desperate. It seemed as she was being sentenced to death as well. I actually cried watching this scene, it was as if she faded with every accusation and her pleads were in vain. So sad.  As the priests left after giving the death sentence of a traitor to Radames she confronts them, tells them they have thirst for blood and are irrational. But it's no use. The King's justice must be done (isn't that so Game of Thrones).

Radames is in his tiny cell, a tomb actually, where he will be buried alive. Yeah, that sounds pretty awful. But he's quite placid for someone who's going to die like that. Aida finds her way in there, God only knows how, you would think that thing is well guarded but elas, it's not. Stupid in the fence Aida wants to die with him and he wants to die for her and all that, at the end of the day they deserve each other. But their music is quite wonderful and the singers did it justice, I guess I just didn't buy their love story. But I did cry at the end, it's quite mooving when they say the sky is opening up to them to welcome them (A noi si schiude il cielo). It soothes me to think they managed to kill each other quickly or ate some poison so they wouldn't suffer much in that tomb.

Well, the opera ended and the audience was on their feet clapping like crazy! There were loads of young people there which pleased me a lot. I took some pictures of the curtain call, but they aren't really good, I took them with my phone. The applause was crazy, even the veteran singers got emotional with the immense cheer they got. 

On Saturday I ran from the opera house right after the curtain call was over because I was afraid the subway might close. But on Thursday I went to the stage door because I wanted to talk to the singer who played Amneris. Seriously, her performance was so touching I just had to tell her. I didn't know her name or nationality but I was resolute in talking to her. Unfortunately after about 20 minutes she didn't come out and the subway was about to close so I had to rush to get home. The worst part about this was that later as I looked at the program I saw her picture without makeup and she had passed by me and I hadn't recognized her. Yeah, big dumb face I am!

Well, that's basically it! Studying a lot, watching a lot of stuff, singing endlessly! Just how I like it! Peace everyone!

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