Presented by: Tauranga Opera Forum
Tauranga Opera Forum’s 2020 programme of DVD opera screenings on the third Thursday of the month is exciting, varied and will bring much enjoyment for its members. The Opera’s Committee have chosen a mixture of old favourites and lesser know productions.
Our next opera is one of a very grand scale, an opera in four acts by Giuseppe Verdi to an Italian libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni. Set in Egypt, it was commissioned by and first performed at Cairo‘s Khedivial Opera House on 24 December 1871. Conflicting opinion is held as to whether it was actually written to commemorate the opening of The Suez Canal in November 1869, but regardless it was received with great enthusiasm when it premiered in New Zealand in Dunedin on 18 November 1877, and then after a number of other productions was part of “the opera mania” that swept New Zealand during the visit of the 1949 Williamson Grand Opera Company.
A SIMPLE SYNOPSIS
Egypt and Ethiopia are at war. Egyptian Army General Radamès is chosen to lead an assault on the enemy, and hopes by being victorious, to win the hand of his lover Aida – an Ethiopian enslaved as handmaiden to Egyptian princess, Amneris. However, Amneris is in love with Radamès herself, and is growing suspicious.
Radamès returns from battle triumphant, but Aida is devastated – her own father Amonasro, who is actually the King of Ethiopia, has been taken captive. To make matters worse, the King of Eygpt rewards Radamès with an unwelcome gift – his daughter Amneris in marriage. When Amonasro tasks Aida with helping him avenge Ethiopia though Radamès, loyalties collide, with devastating consequence…
A HISTORY IN NZ
Aida premiered in Cairo in December 1870, less than seven years later it was brought to New Zealand by the Williamson Opera Company and premiered in Dunedin on 19 November 1877.
Aida made Egyptian style fashionable all around the world and created great interest in New Zealand. Four performances had to be given in Dunedin* and the Auckland performance on 8 February drew the biggest crowd seen at The Theatre Royal since it opened. The Otago Daily Times reviewer, writing the day after the first Dunedin performance on 19 November 1877, felt that the opera impressed ‘more by its general effect than by any sparkling gem’. He admired ‘the concerted martial music in the first act’ and thought the dénouement both novel and powerful. His review gave little information about the production apart from the fact that the Company’s ballet master had trained a dozen children to perform the Ethiopian Ballet in Act II and that a suitably costumed local band had appeared on stage to add weight to the Grand March.
In 1949 New Zealand became opera conscious as never before. Not content with attending performances in unprecedented numbers, they seemed intent on human interest stories about the artists. Those who spoke some English were constantly in demand for radio and newspaper interviews. The Dominion sent its “Women’s World’ reporter backstage during a performance of Aida to produce an impressionistic piece on life behind the scenes. A more factual mixture of interview and observation, written after a backstage visit to La Boheme matinee, appeared in The Otago Times. Learning that the singers liked to do their own catering whenever possible, another columnist quizzed singer Fortunati about Italian recipes: she responded by demonstrating her method of cooking tagliatelle, using a long white scarf and a dagger from Madame Butterfly, to show how she cut and folded the pasta. Franco Ghione’s views were canvassed everywhere and many papers reported his belief that new Zealand’s enthusiasm justified the creation of a state funded company.
In 1971 the production of The Marriage of Figaro and Aida were mounted in collaboration with New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation. By the time these reached the stage, it had already been announced that, following plans to slash the grant in 1972, the opera company had withdrawn from the Opera and Ballet Trust and would go into recess.
Aida was an unexpected success. Undaunted by the rather static staging and monumental sets, Jon Andrews stirring Radames and Felicia Wither’s intensely realised Aida danced to the tune of Maureen Guy’s Amneris. The standards achieved were extraordinary considering that Withers had suffered a miscarriage just a week before opening night and whereas in Europe a replacement could have been summoned immediately, in New Zealand she had no option but to struggle gamely on. ‘Only a perversely aloof patron could be unmoved by this production,’ wrote one critic. Another lamented, ‘Just as New Zealand opera is going into mothballs…. It produces a Monarch Butterfly. If it weren’t for the deprivation and shame of it, you could laugh at the irony.’
Watch on YOUTUBE
- Watch this introduction to Aida
- Watch Luciano Pavarotti – “Celeste Aida”
- Watch montage of stills relative to THE GRAND, The Dance of The Priestesses and photos from the Valley of Tombs in Egypt to the accompaniment of Verdi’s grand music
Tickets for Aida will be available from Monday 6 July, as usual, at Bureta Pharmacy and House of Travel but for your convenience we have a new innovation in obtaining your opera tickets. You may use our TOF Opera online banking:
- Submit payment to 38-9019-0116100-00.
- Enter your name and initials as references and your phone number as the code.
- We will phone you to confirm we have your payment and arrange for you to receive your ticket – all tickets are still just $20.00 providing you a glass of wine, canapés and entry to the theatre.