Last time she performed in Aida in Queensland Natalie Aroyan got a bit of sand between her toes. The Armenian-Australian soprano debuted in the role in an Opera Australia production staged on Coolangatta Beach six years ago.
That was an initiative of Opera Australia’s then artistic director Lyndon Terracini, the same bloke who came up with the idea of staging a digital version of The Ring Cycle in Brisbane.
For an opera fan, too much opera is not enough. And so it is that Aroyan is back in Aida in a co-production with Opera Queensland, which runs at QPAC’s Lyric Theatre through December.
But wait a minute … The Ring Cycle is also on at the Lyric Theatre, so how does that work?
Well, Aida is the other opera that is part of what amounts to a month-long festival of opera in the Queensland capital.
It’s not often that Aida is referred to as “the other opera”, as it is a timeless classic but this is a digital production too.
So on The Ring Cycle’s nights off, we will travel, care of Giuseppe Verdi, from mythological other worlds to an actual place, Ancient Egypt in the time of the Old Kingdom several thousand years ago.
It’s a world Aroyan has inhabited many times now, ever since she first dipped her toe in the water (figuratively speaking) as Aida at Coolangatta. We don’t imagine any other opera singer has had their debut in Aida on the Gold Coast.
“I really loved that production on the beach,” Aroyan says when we chat before rehearsals. “You really felt like you were in Egypt. It was a bit windy at one stage, though, and I had a veil that was supposed to be behind my head but it blew in front of my face and I sang the whole aria with it over my face on debut.”
The following year she performed the role at the Sydney Opera House. “Now this is my third season in Aida,” she says.
Aida is an Ethiopian princess held captive in Egypt. She is in love with a General, Radames, and he with her. But when he is chosen to lead a war against Ethiopia, Aida is torn between her love for Radames and for her country.
Spoiler alert – it doesn’t end well, but this is opera so you kind of expect that.
This production was ahead of the curve when it premiered in 2018. It’s a jaw-dropping spectacle that was the first production in the world to revolutionise opera with cutting-edge integrated digital technologies bringing the art form into the 21st century.
Ten towering LED screens glide around the stage filling the set with emotive imagery, stunning landscapes and rich symbolism creating a truly immersive experience perfectly suited to the scale, depth and magnificence of Verdi’s monumental opera.
Acclaimed Italian director Davide Livermore heightens the drama with breathtaking choreography, striking costumes and magnificent operatic performances from a sensational cast.
Verdi’s soaring arias will be delivered by Aroyan opposite an Opera Australia favourite and a regular colleague of hers, tenor Diego Torre in the role of Radames.
French-Russian mezzo soprano Elena Gabouri is Amneris (who is also in love with Radames) and talented bass Alexander Vinogradov is Ramfis, the chief priest. Brisbane-born baritone Michael Honeyman and Gold Coast-based bass Conal Coad are also in this production.
Members of the Opera Queensland Chorus will join the Opera Australia Chorus to add impressive vocals to the drama and Italian maestro Lorenzo Passerini will conduct the Queensland Symphony Orchestra.
Opera Queensland’s CEO and artistic director Patrick Nolan says Aida is a timely piece.
“At a time when we are being confronted with the horror and cruelty of war on a daily basis, Aida reminds us that at the centre of the trauma are people with whom we share a common humanity, “Nolan says. “Aida is renowned for its grandeur which this production doesn’t shy away from.
“It is a great thrill to see the mighty Opera Queensland Chorus sharing the stage with their colleagues at Opera Australia, to bring the story to life in vivid colour,” Nolan says.
“The production is also remarkable for the way it balances the tension between the grand and the intimate. The extraordinary visuals and costumes illuminate the wonder of Ancient Egypt and serve as a brilliant backdrop to the very real vulnerability and struggle of the characters’ plights.”
Premiering in 1871, Aida was a spectacle from the start, with no expense spared.
Its reputation has endured and it remains known as one of the most popular operas around the world.
For Natalie Aroyan, it’s an opera that resonates in so many ways.
“I loved Ancient History at school and I have an Egyptian connection because my mother was born in Cairo,” Aroyan says.
“I have been to Egypt and every time I’d think I was Nefertiti in a past life. When I became an opera singer, I wanted to be Aida although, at first, I didn’t realise she was actually Ethiopian.”
But that’s okay, she’ll take it.
Aida, December 6 -20, Lyric Theatre, QPAC
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