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Notwithstanding, this was a commendably brave endeavour which, while some way short of flawless, proved Polidoro to be well worthy of revival. brian robins

Netherlands Spanga This year the title of European Capital of Culture has been shared by Valletta and Leeuwarden, the capital of the northern Dutch province of Fryslân (Friesland). The opera spanga production of Aida (seen on August 7) was therefore co-produced with Malta’s MCAST Institute for the Creative Arts. It travelled to Valletta for two performances (with the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra) in September, after ten performances in Spanga.

Opera Spanga presented its first annual production in 1989 in the garden of its artistic director Corina van Eijk. The success was such that from 1990 onwards performances have been given in a tent on a nearby patch of farmland, Spanga being a village of 200 inhabitants set in the endless flat pastures of southern Friesland.

Aida may not be an obvious choice for a company with limited resources. However, although containing grand opera elements, one could argue that it is also strikingly intimate in the personal drama between its protagonists. Superbly conveying that intimacy, the conductor Tjalling Wijnstra took advantage of the disadvantages; seldom will the score have been executed with such delicacy and nuance. His orchestra of 35, the Filharmonie Noord, responded well to his ideas and one never longed for a bigger orchestra. The same can be said about the chorus of 21, all students from Dutch conservatories.

The director Corina van Eijk and the designer Jolanda Lanslots chose to stage the opera as a cry for world peace, with references to the conflicts in Syria and Yemen. With minimal scenery, the stage was dominated by well-over-life-size projections, filmed in Malta by MCAST students. These worked well when they suggested the presence of a large chorus, as in the trial scene, but otherwise tended to distract from the proceedings on stage and even, on occasion, provoked inappropriate laughter from the audience.

■  Eva Kroon and Maribeth Diggle as Amneris and Aida at Spanga

To say that the casting was problematic is an understatement when the High Priestess (Francesca Aquilina) delivered one of the most moving performances. Among the lower male voices Sinan Vural stood out, doing his utmost to make Ramfis credible, but his voice is a light baritone, not a bass. Maribeth Diggle and Tao Tong both have appealing voices, though tackling the demanding roles of Aida and Radames this early in their careers was probably unwise; their technical and interpretative skills are not yet completely convincing, but they produced enjoyable singing, especially in their duets. The most complete performance came from Eva

Opera, December 2018


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