Without a pyramid or palm tree in sight, Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's concert Aida was a highly entertaining night at the opera, resourcefully marshalled by director Stuart Maunder.
Under the dynamic Giordano Bellincampi, the APO made the most of Verdi's vibrant score, from the spectacular marches of the first two acts to more exotic evocations later on, although some dances and processional music cried out for stage action.
The Freemasons New Zealand Opera Chorus was an integral presence, on stage and off, with the glorious soprano of Anna Leese wafting through the walls. The men were sonorously solemn priests, the women sweet-voiced slaves.
Commissioned to celebrate Cairo's new opera house, Aida cleverly combines politics and passion; an underlying conflict between Egypt and Ethiopia backdrops an eternal triangle of two princesses in love with the one military hero.
Olesya Petrova was a world-class Amneris, the Pharoah's daughter, whether engaged in emotional cat-and-mouse games with Aida or drawing on her full and impressive vocal armament to win over Ramades.
Antonello Palombi's Ramades was more than equal to the Russian super-mezzo. His absolute authority and ringing tone never failed, after winning hearts with his rapturous Celeste Aida.
Maria Luigia Borsi, so affecting as Desdemona in the APO's 2016 Otello, did not quite capture the proud princess of the title role. Portraying Aida as a vulnerable heroine was an interesting angle, but notes were submerged under orchestral surges and later powerful duets lost some of their intensity.
Minor roles, including a dramatically imposing Lucio Gallo as Aida's father, were efficiently handled, although too often these singers' intrusive vibrato made one long for the tonal freshness that Oliver Sewell brought to his few lines as the Messenger.
Where: Auckland Town Hall
Reviewer: William Dart