Love and loss in ancient Egypt comes alive at the Opera

Aida (Anna Markarova) and Amneris (Olesya Petrova) become rivals after they discover they both love Radames. Photo © Yves Renaud.

The Opéra de Montréal begins its 2016-17 season with Aida, a timeless story of anguish

In Aida, the Opéra de Montréal’s first opera of the season, you are taken back to ancient Egypt, during the time of the Pharaohs. War looms on the horizon, yet the heart of the conflict rests with a forbidden love.

Aida (Anna Markarova) has caught the eye of Radames (Kamen Chanev), captain of the Egyptian guard and the hero chosen to defend Egypt against the invading Ethiopians. Aida loves Radames as well, however, she is a slave of Amneris (Olesya Petrova), daughter to the Pharaoh, who also loves Radames.

The opera, which had its premiere in Cairo at the Opera House in 1871, was written and composed by Giuseppe Verdi. The story is timeless: a love between two people who cannot be together, and unrequited love for someone whose heart is already taken. The live orchestra accompanying the drama made the performances that much more powerful. Instead of a flat recording, the music rose and fell with the tension and drama onstage.

The opera is performed in three acts. The first act, which takes place in a temple in the city of Thebes,  sets the tone and stage for the conflict that will develop later in the piece. In it, we realize that Aida is in fact the daughter of Amonasro (Gregory Dahl), king of Ethiopia.

Under the unwavering eye of the God Ptah, Ramades is given the command of the Egyptian troops, and sent to defend Egypt. The assembled crowd pray for Ptah to protect him and guide him on his journey. At the end of the first act, Radames has returned from war victorious, trailing behind him a host of prisoners captured on the battlefield, of which Aida’s father is included. In a cruel twist of events, the king offers Radames the highest honor: his daughter Amneris’ hand in marriage.

Radames (Kamen Chanev) and Aida (Anna Markarova) stand together in the tomb which will be their grave. Photo © Yves Renaud.
Radames (Kamen Chanev) and Aida (Anna Markarova) stand together in the tomb which will be their grave. Photo © Yves Renaud.

The second act saw the capture of Ramades by the Egyptian guard, for accidentally disclosing to Amonasro the route that the Egyptian troops were to take on their march towards Ethiopia, betraying his country in the process. Amonasro and Aida flee while Ramades is taken away by the Egyptian guard for his betrayal.

The third act brings us back to the original setting of the temple in Thebes. There, Ramades is sentenced to death by live entombment. In this scene, Petrova, who plays the part of Amneris, delivered a fantastic performance, as she stood by in helpless anguish while her love was tried and sentenced to death, unable to use her influence in order to save him.

The final scene in the third act begins with Ramades entombed. He wishes for death, for death would be an escape. Without Aida by his side, life is meaningless. But lo and behold, she has snuck into the tomb in order to be with him, foreseeing the outcome of his sentencing. This final scene is incredibly powerful, as it circles back to the first act. While in the first act Ramades was receiving Ptah’s blessing, guidance and protection, now the priests are  praying  for his condemnation. Together, the lovers embrace as the light from the torches slowly fades, leaving the tomb dark as Amneris watches from afar, realizing that for Radames and Aida, a death together was worth more than a life apart.

If Aida is any indication of the strength of the rest of the opera season, it should be one to look forward to. Aida will be shown again at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier at Place des Arts on Sept. 20, 22 and 24 at 7:30 p.m.

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