A monumental season opener


by Giuseppe Verdi

The Opéra de Montréal kicks off its 37th season with the great pomp that only opera can deliver by presenting Giuseppe Verdi’s monumental Aida, which will carry us off to ancient Egypt. From the radiant brilliance of the famous “triumphal march” to the lyricism of its arias and ensembles, this drama of uncommon intensity will be brought to life by an international cast. Stage direction has been entrusted to François Racine, well known for his ability to combine aesthetics and drama, and his ease at bringing out the multiple facets of each character.

The opera is sung in Italian with English and French surtitles.

The Story: For Love or Country?
Aida, a young Ethiopian slave to Amneris, daughter of the King of Egypt, must choose between her love for Radames, the new commander of the Egyptian army, and her loyalty to her father—king of the Ethiopians—and to her people, who are at war with the Egyptians. The jealous Amneris, who also desires Radames, makes the situation even more complicated. Caught in a love triangle—and a political quandary—, will the young couple manage to survive?

An International Cast
Russian soprano Anna Markarova and Bulgarian tenor Kamen Chanev portray the two lovers, Aida and Radames. In the role of Amneris, daughter of the King of Egypt, is Russian contralto Olesya Petrova. The other roles feature Bulgarian baritone Kiril Manolovas Amonasro, Aida’s father and the King of the Ethiopians, Canadian Phillip Ens as Ramfis, Belarusian Anatoli Sivko as the King of Egypt, *Myriam Leblanc as the Priestess, and *Keven Geddes as the messenger. As prepared by Claude Webster, the Opéra de Montréal Chorus has a starring role in Aida. American conductor Paul Nadler returns to lead the Orchestre Métropolitain, following his success here with Turandot in 2014. The stage director is François Racine and the choreographer, Noëlle-Émilie Desbiens. Sets are by Claude Girard and Bernard Uzan, with costumes also by Claude Girard. Lighting is by Éric W. Champoux.
*Atelier lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal


Photo from the Opéra de Montréal’s production in 2006

The Work:“A Splendid Mise en Scène”
In 1869, the Khedive of Egypt asked Verdi to compose a hymn in honour of the opening of the Suez Canal. Verdi declined, on the grounds that he did not compose occasional music. At the same time, while seeking a subject for his next opera, Verdi also refused offers from his publisher Giulio Ricordi and his friend, French impresario and librettist Camille du Locle. Nothing seemed to be what he was looking for. The Khedive decided to give it another go, this time asking Verdi to write an opera to celebrate the opening of the first opera house in Africa, the Cairo Opera. French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette came up with an idea inspired by ancient Egypt, which he sent to Du Loclein April 1870, without having signed it. Du Locle presented it to Verdi, who responded with enthusiasm, describing it in a letter as “a splendid mise en scène.” Verdi and Du Locle reworked the scenario, which was then set to verse by Italian librettist Antonio Ghislanzoni. Verdi was involved in the writing of the libretto, sending several letters to Ghislanzoni in which he described his dramatic vision of the work and his ideas regarding the versification of certain scenes. The outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in July 1870 delayed the premiere of the opera, which finally took place with great success on December 24, 1871.

The Music:
Musically, Aida expertly brings together tradition and innovation. Verdi employs the lyrical conventions of Italian opera, incorporating some local colour that gives the work its exoticism, as can be heard in Aida’s aria “O patria mia,” which is accompanied by a plaintive oboe.
The opera is also unique in that it includes five duets that are each handled in their own specific way. In a letter to Ghislanzoni, Verdi wrote of the importance of what he referred to as “la parola scenica” (the theatrical word), which “sculpts the situation, making it stand out cleanly and plainly.” The religiosity and power of Aida’s choruses have led several people to compare them to Verdi’s Requiem, which he wrote shortly after wards, in 1874. This monumental work transports us to another world, to a distant and imaginary past… where the emotions are nevertheless very real.

For information and tickets: placedesarts.com  514-842-2112 or 1-866-842-2112


To learn more about each opera on the program, join musicologist Pierre Vachon prior to each performance for an introduction to the work and its context, illustrated with musical excerpts.
In the Piano Nobileat Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, Place des Arts, at 6:30 pm.
Duration: 30 minutes. Free for subscribers and $5 for non-subscribers (tickets on sale at the Place des Arts box office on performance days).

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