In anyone’s hands, Verdi’s Aida is not the easiest opera to raise up to greatness on the stage. How does a director spotlight hidden subtleties, musical or dramatic, in a libretto and subject so easily swamped by the spectacle of marching breastplates, roaring divas, Egyptian bling and the aroma and sway of live camels? Novice audiences may have their own problems, grappling with characters named Aida, Amneris, Amonasro, Radamès, Ramfis — almost always A and R. If only the librettist, Antonio Ghislanzoni, had called someone Doris.
Imagine, then, the difficulties faced when the opera is performed by Opera Australia on a wide-open platform, built over water, at this year’s Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour. This filmed record, in UK cinemas for one evening only on 15 September, offers a vivid document of the company’s struggle to bring Verdi’s Egyptian monster to heel.