Ksenia Dudnikova (Amneris), Jonas Kaufmann (Radames) and Solomon Howard (King) in Lotte de Beer’s new Paris production of ‘Aida’
diversity at the Opéra: repertoire works that could arouse sensitivities will not be vetoed, but their values will not simply be taken as read.
Aida makes no reference in its libretto to the colour of the protagonist’s skin, but she has often been presented as a black woman, though it is unclear whether, beyond signalling her Ethiopian identity, this has been linked to her current status as a slave. Even before Neef’s report was published, Lotte de Beer had addressed the issue, both opting for a pale-skinned Aida and placing a key focus on the efforts of colonized people to free themselves in the 19th century. In de Beer’s conception Aida was a giant puppet, the work of the Zimbabwean sculptor Virginia Chihota. The figure, which looked rather as if it had been constituted from ancient fragments, was manipulated by three puppeteers (one of them a black woman), and shadowed by the soprano, here Sondra Radvanovsky, who was dressed in black. In similar fashion, Amonasro, reduced to a puppet torso, was shadowed by a black-clad Ludovic Tézier. Both singers are to be praised as much for their vocal performances—Radvanovsky for her flexibility, range of colour, control and clarity, and Tézier, a true Verdi baritone, for his contoured incisiveness—as for their alertness and concentration in complex circumstances.
This radical approach deprived the production of the emotional charge that fleshand-blood acting can generate, but there was a dignity to its dramaturgy and it resulted in some moving moments, for instance when Radames held the puppet Aida in his arms like a baby, or in the final scene when the puppeteers suddenly disappeared and left the protagonists and their doubles alone on the stage. There were also some moments of discreetly satirical humour in the Triumphal Scene, which reproduced famous military images such as Delacroix’s painting Liberty Leading the People and Joe Rosenthal’s photograph Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima.
Opera, May 2021