Montreal may be a hockey town, but there is much happening culturally that deserves equal attention, the Opéra de Montréal among them.
Its production of Verdi’s Aida over four nights, Sept. 17, 20, 22, 24 at Salle Wilfrid Pelletier of Place des Arts should be seen as a cultural milestone of the fall season.
The opera, written by Giuseppe Verdi in 1870, had its debut on Christmas Eve, 1871, and along with Rigoletto, is considered his best work.
Seeing and hearing the full opera, with singers in costume, period props, and full orchestra, is an experience unlike any other. It may not be for everyone, but it is certainly, as I have learned, an event to discover and savour.
The story begins in ancient Egypt when an imprisoned Ethiopian princess, Aida, lies about her true identity. She is a slave serving Amneris, the Egyptian King’s daughter. An Egyptian general, Radames, is secretly in love with Aida, and vice versa.
When Radames is appointed supreme commander against Ethiopia, Aida finds herself in conflict between love for her country and love for Radames.
To complicate matters, Amneris, the King’s daughter, also loves Radames, who wins the war and returns to Egypt a hero. As a reward from the King, Radames is allowed to marry Amneris and is to succeed the king. Amneris is thrilled, but Radames is confused, while Aida is sad.
Among the prisoners of war, Aida spots her father, the Ethiopian King Amonasro, who persuades Aida to betray Radames by extracting military secrets from him. Aida persuades Radames that they should escape and live together. Radames agrees and reveals a secret escape route. But Amneris enters the picture and has him arrested. Radames urges them to flee, and Aida and Amonasro do so using the secret route.
The death penalty awaits Radames, but Amneris offers to save him if he loves and marries her. He refuses, is prepared to die, and is buried alive in a deep grave, where he discovers Aida has been there since before he was imprisoned. Together they await death.
Of course, this is not post-modern plot material. It takes a huge leap, but then so does Shakespeare. The music, especially the triumphal marches, is magnificent. The Opéra de Montréal has gathered outstanding singers for these performances.
Russian soprano Anna Markarova makes her debut as Aida; Bulgarian tenor Kamen Chanev, who performed here in the 2014 production of Turandot, plays Radames; mezzo/contralto Olesya Petrova is cast as Ameris; Canadian baritone Gregory Dahl, who sang here in Samson and Delilah last year, is Amonasro; basso Phillip Ens is cast as Ramfis; From Belarus, bass/baritone Anatoli Sivko is the Egyptian. The conductor is the renowned Paul Nadler.
Tickets from $59.75 to $154.75 available at ticketmaster.com/aps/operademontreal/EN