Verdi's 'Aida' at the Metropolitan Opera, New York
Verdi's 'Aida' at the Metropolitan Opera, New York © Marty Sohl

Soon after the curtain rises in Verdi’s Aida, the warrior-hero sings an ode to his beloved, calling the pseudo slave-girl “celestial”. When the Met revived its mock-Egyptian, hyper-conventional 28-year-old staging of this masterpiece on Saturday, however, matters seemed a bit earthbound.

Vital drama was turned into a lavish kitsch spectacular. The proceedings recalled oh-so-grand opera as depicted in those perennial New Yorker cartoons.

The stage squirmed with prancing priestesses worthy of Busby Berkeley, martial spear-carriers making and remaking their rounds and fleshy-flashy hoochy-coochy intruders slinking out of context. Everyone preened unabashedly within Gianni Quaranta’s stately decors. Everyone struck picturesque poses, marched solemnly and danced, after a fashion, all in accordance with Sonja Frisell’s original movement plan (now overseen by Stephen Pickover). The basic action — and inaction — may not have looked much different when the opera had its premiere in 1867.

On this occasion Verdi’s wondrous score was in the dauntless, knowing hands of Marco Armiliato. He did his professional best, sometimes successfully, to sustain contact with the uneven singers and to maintain progressive tempi. The task could not have been easy.

Liudmyla Monastryska, a Ukrainian soprano in the title role, revealed a big, wild, wide-ranging, unwieldy voice, exquisite one moment, strident the next. Marco Berti, her essentially stentorian Radamès, tried valiantly to sing softly once in a while. Ekaterina Gubanova, the Russian Amneris, looked terrific and sang with such emotional fervour that one wished her mezzo-soprano were a size bigger and a shade darker. Mark Delavan returned to Amonasro, the vehicle of his company debut in 2001 — many Wotans ago. He exuded authority despite some vocal decline. Soloman Howard declaimed the King’s royal clichés with authority. Dmitry Belosselskiy boomed healthily as Ramfis, a dull high priest.

The enthusiasts out front, more voluminous than seems normal at Lincoln Center these days, turned out to be relentlessly clap-happy. They applauded the grandiose sets, especially when the scenery rose and fell on cue in the great triumphal scene. They also applauded the horses.

To April 20,

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