|Aida - Director's Notes|
A premise: As everyone knows, Verdi never set foot in Egypt. The handsome commission to the tune of 150.000 francs, a considerable sum in those days, by the Regent Ismail Pascia', could not lure him to Egypt! Verdi composed Aida in the safety of his home, wryly justifying his decision to stay away from that foreign land because of the fear of "mummification" (his very words!) Still in no other Opera are felt the magic, the atmosphere, the colours, the fascination of Antique Egypt, as in Aida. Verdi had, as with all other geniuses, a special talent: intuition. He had grasped the essence of that civilization, which has reached us through diverse and scattered remains, which could be readily described as "esoteric": the mysteries, the rituals, the arcane knowledge, definitely prior to what many superficial treatises expound about the Sphynx and the Pyramids as dated around 2500 B.C. Recent analytical studies by archeologists who specialize in the so-called pre-dynastic civilization have dated the whole complex of the Giza area (where the majestic pyramids and the Sphynx dominate undisturbed) to 10.000 B.C. with the historical and anthropological consequences entailed.
I have been at the helm at various productions of Aida, having had the good fortune of working in spacious ambiences and with vintage artists such as tenor Gianfranco Cecchele, an extraordinary Radames; Lando Bartolini, another gilt edged voice, with whom we triumphed in Taormina. Sarah 'Munga's Amneris comes to mind, a veritable agile tigress, as well as Kathleen McCalla's Aida; the fantastic Michaela Carosi; a superb Maria Dragoni whose top Eflat at the end of the 2nd Act brought Fiesole's Teatro Antico down! Among the baritones, I cannot not mention Mauro Agostini with his booming voice, whose mentor Mario Del Monaco described as a "human trumpet". I have learned from each and every one. If the director is humble enough and sensible enough to glean many suggestions emanating from such great artists than he is much the richer for it.
For this new production in Gozo, where the fantastic team led by Joseph Cauchi can do anything, I have opted for a mystic ambience: a unique journey starting from the Prelude to return to the initial darkness. We are in a space uninhabited by time, exactly as if we were coursing into the great Pyramid of Cheope (for those fortunate enough to have entered into the bowels of one of the seven wonders of the world), a place wrapped in a mantle of light taking its bearings from the movement of the heavenly bodies. "That which is below is above and that which is above is below": microcosm and macrocosm blend around the heroes of the Ghislanzoni-Verdi tandem. We are far removed from the mere occasional, celebrative Aida. Still I have endeavoured to maintain the "triumphant" dimension. In my heart of hearts I have always disliked those who reiterated that "Aida is not only about Triumph". I am disgusted by such an attitude. It seems to me a facile excuse to make of Aida a kind of public office peopled by black-hooded employees, a place where Nothing rules uncontested. Aida is also about Triumph: the triumph of Light and of Mystery, brought out by the special effects which a judicious use of the most sophisticated modern technology make possible. So prepare for surging masses, Choristers and extras, under the guidance of a goddess, a figure half-way between a priestess and a symbol of the departed.
Aida restarts from Act three. One has to keep this in mind to create new dramatic crescendos by following scrupulously the musical notations. A cosmic dance: that is what Aida is for me. When the last flicker of light is snubbed out in the tomb in which Aida dies (Verdi specifically lays down that Aida dies before the end of the operaÃÃÃÂ¢ÃÃÃÂ¦how often we have witnessed the lovers embrace just like Peynet's lovers on a couch!), as only the high end quasi transparent notes of the violins are heard in the distance, then the feeling that one has returned to the beginning, a cycle similar to an earthly procession, 25,000 years crammed into the span of just three hours of sublime music, has to be absolutely felt by one and all.
To impart the idea of infinite space in which this masterpiece is experienced, I have revolutionized the Teatru Astra's stage, transforming it into an impressive cinematic set: doing away with the background, putting in place lights and laser projections, myriad mesmerizing effects of which I am not divulging the secret given that today the "copy/paste system", which belies a complete lack of ideas, is unfortunately the order of the day, and making use of refractory lights on the sides. All this underpinned by a rigorous respect for the drama as envisaged originally, because the inner drama has to be understood as well as the principals' character. Just by way of example, I have sought to make Amonasro a loving if authoritative father and not a bulging gorilla or an irascible Bantu'! The most poignant of phrases is his: "Just think of a people, conquered, torn apart".
Wishing you all a splendid Aida!