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Classical 101

AIDA: Metropolitan Opera Live in HD

ONE AUDIO PIECE   The Metropolitan Opera presents Verdi's Aida, live in HD Saturday, October 24th at 1PM.  See it at Crosswoods Worthington, Regent Cinemas, Georgesville Road or Lenox Cinemas. Soprano Rosa Ponselle called Aida the greatest opera of all.  It's a subjective call of course, and I'd hate to leave Cosi fan tutte or Tristan und Isolde or Otello out of the discussion, but if you want grand opera then you want Aida. Attempts over the years to re fashion this huge work into a chamber opera focusing on the principals exclusively missed the point. Giuseppe Verdi, man of the theater he was, used the chorus, the orchestra, the special Aida trumpets, and his detailed staging instructions to invoke the scale and the massive size of the Egypt of the Pharaohs.  The reason Elizabeth Taylor's Cleopatra was such a flop was while she may have had Richard Burton, she didn't have Verdi's music. This is how Aida should look. This is what you will see on Saturday live from the Met: [youtube l3w4I-KElxQ 490 344] I like to think I'm seeing pyramids, gods, togas etc. in my Aida. If you have the Metropolitan's resources, there's no reason not to do it up big. That's not to say that the drama-and magnificent music-in the third act, set on the banks of the Nile, is any less compelling.  But Verdi understood that setting, time and place have to be excitingly suggested in the music and in the mise en scene. In Aida, you get the horrible conflicts of the characters and you get the overwhelming and oppressive culture in which they struggle to survive. And there are plenty of opportunities for great singing. There's also a stunt or two.  The most (in)famous happened in Mexico City in 1951, when Maria Callas suddenly took a sustained high E flat at the very end of the triumphal scene (Act II sc. II).  The Mexican public goes nuts [audio:callas-aida.mp3] Aida fits the bill perfectly for "a grand entertainment."  Stunts are fun too, if they can be pulled off-Callas didn't make a habit of this. Aida is an opera without a wasted note, with no boring passages. It is impossible to "cut" Aida. You may as well take a razor to the Mona Lisa. --Christopher Purdy

Christopher Purdy is Classical 101's early morning host, 7-10 a.m. weekdays. He is host and producer of Front Row Center – Classical 101’s weekly celebration of Opera and more – as well as Music in Mid-Ohio, Concerts at Ohio State, and the Columbus Symphony broadcast series. He is the regular pre-concert speaker for Columbus Symphony performances in the Ohio Theater.