Saturday, November 21, 2009

AIDA or is it Amneris?

Today I listened to the Mets sumptuous production of Aida. I have seen Aida numerous times before and every time I have seen it, I have had no sympathy for Amneris the pharoahs daughter and every sympathy for Aida the hapless Ethiopian slave girl. That was all before this performance.

Amneris was sung by Delora Zajick who has performed this role 250 times. Her performance was riveting, she portrayed the usual vengeful side of Amneris, but also and much more poignantly her vulnerability. Amneris wanted someone to love her, and in the end realized her jealousy of Aida destroyed Radames whom she loved. When Radames is condemned to die by the priests, she prays as he is sentenced, each time imploring the gods to have pity. It is similar to the pleas that Aida makes when she is torn between her homeland and her love Radames the captain of the Egyptian army. It is interesting that both implore the gods to have pity. Aida however prays to the gods to have pity on her, whereas Amneris prays to the gods to have pity on Radames. (Johan Botha)

While Aida (sung by Violeta Urman), prays that she is unhappy and wishes to return to her homeland, her prayers and songs are selfish insofar as they are about her happiness. Moreover she dooms Radames when she asks him to tell her the route that the Egyptian army would take to destroy her people. She does this admittedly after the mother-of-all guilt trips by her father Amonastro the Ethiopian King. He denounces her as a daughter, and calls upon the dead including her mother's spectral hand to condemn her unless she saves her people. Aida give in.

Amneris gives Radames to the priests to be condemned but Aida, who caused all of this in the first place escapes. Amneris pleads with Radames after his arrest to save himself, and that she herself would save him. Her love was unselfish. She wished Radames would love her and would gladly give up her power and crown and position for him. Aida betrayed Radames.

In this incredible production by Sonja Frisell, there were horses in the triumphal march but the most moving was when Radames is entombed beneath the alter of Pitah. While the priests and Amneris, who is destroyed sing a lament, he awaits his death. Aida has joined him by hiding in the tomb. The two declare that they will be happy in heaven, away from the veil of tears. Meanwhile above the altar Amneris is mourning give them peace.

This opera has been misunderstood by me as one about Aida but it is really about the quality of true love. Despite what Aida sings about her homeland and the fact that she will die without Radames...her words are hollow as she betrays him. Despite what Amneris sings about revenge and destroying her rival, she wants to be loved and her love is far less selfish. She would have died in the place of Radames. Her flaw, her jealousy doomed both Radames, Aida and herself and when she sings about giving rest and peace, one realizes she is singing about herself as well, a woman utterly destroyed. She rolls her eyes in this scene as she realizes that the gods she prayed to, are hollow. There is no more meaning for Amneris.

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