Aida returned to the Metropolitan Opera on Thursday with Angela Meade as the Ethiopian princess, who is torn between her love for Radames and duty to father and country. The impressive debuts of several rising young singers were also noteworthy. The audience’s clear. favorites, however, were the Met’s own forces—chorus, orchestra and ballet—led by conductor Paolo Carignani.
Meade’s sumptuous voice is cut from the cloth of which great Aidas are made. Her soprano has the heft and slice for “Ritorna vincitor!” as well as the lushness and lyrical qualities to fill out the soaring lines of “O patria mia.” She brought passion to the opening recitative and did full justice to the demanding aria. If her high notes didn’t exactly float, they did spin, and the soprano can carry a sustained line to maximum effect. Elsewhere and especially in the Tomb Scene, Meade sang ravishing phrases where her high notes were produced with less effort and were truly beautiful.
The soprano, however, served the drama well. She was coquettish in her first entrance upon seeing Radames, the warrior Radames with who she is in love. Her happiness was brief, however, as Meade’s Aida almost instantly realized that she had a rival in Amneris for his affections. Confrontation, however, brought out the best in Meade, when voice and temperament combined to create some electrifying scenes.
As Radames, Marcelo Álvarez cut a dashing figure, but his tenor has lost much of its luster. His high notes were forced and phrases clipped in “Se quel guerrier io fossi! … Celeste Aida”. He’s hardly the only tenor to ignore Verdi’s marking of morendo (slowly dying away) on the aria’s final high B-flat, but it’s no longer one of his money notes. Once that treacherous aria was over, however, it was smoother sailing for Álvarez in all regards.
The remaining principals were all reprising their roles from the season’s first run of the opera that began in December 2022. Olesya Petrova’s glamorous and imperious Amneris dominated every scene in which she appeared. Christian Van Horn was in fine form as Ramfis, the unyielding high priest who rejects Amneris’s pleas to spare Radames. George Gagnidze’s menacing Amonasro was powerfully sung.
As for the newcomers to the Met, Krzysztof Bączyk’s forthright bass and regal stage presence served him well as the King, but his upcoming appearances as Colline in La bohème will give a better measure of his talents. Tenor Kyle van Schoonhoven’s brief appearance as the Messenger in Act I revealed a free, ringing tenor of impressive size. Soprano Amanda Batista, a member of the Met’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, produced some lovely lyrical lines as the Voice of the High Priestess during the ceremonies in the Temple of Ptah.
From the opening measures of the Preludio, Carignani and the Met orchestra demanded attention. The violins played at a delicate whisper, while the woodwinds’ ensuing fortissimi were as grand as the trumpets that rang forth throughout the opera. In the Act III Introduzione, conductor and orchestra achieved the purest of pianissimi.Later, in the Judgment Scene, the lower brass growled menacingly as Radames was tried and sentenced to death.
Carignani’s dramatic instincts and ability to provide orchestral support for the singers were especially evident in the ensembles. In Act III, Carignani spurred Meade, Álvarez, and Gagnidze to thrilling vocal and dramatic heights in confrontations that bristled with tension. For Meade especially, Carignani provided an orchestral cushion that permitted her voice to soar effortlessly over chorus and orchestra into the house.
The Act II ballet music also made more of an impact than usual. Excitement was generated by the physicality, energy, and grace of dancers Ayaka Kamei and DaMond LeMonte, who were also making their Met debuts. The Met chorus was also in exceptionally fine form and it wasn’t just in the glorious sound they produced in Act II’s victory celebration. Earlier in the act, the men of the chorus produced some stunning, quiet sounds during the ceremonies in the Temple of Ptah.
Not for the first time in past years, it was announced that Sonja Frisell’s monumental production with sets by Gianni Quaranta would be retired after this season. That may come to pass, so seize the opportunity to see it again for the first or umpteenth time. It’s hard to imagine anything of equal grandeur replacing it.
Aida runs through May 18, with Leah Crocetto singing the title role in the final two performances. metopera.org