Against the backdrop of war and atrocities, Aida features a captivating love triangle between the Egyptian princess Amneris, General Radamès and Aida, a fallen, enslaved Ethiopian princess.
With Aida, the director and artistic director of the National Greek Theatre, Stathis Livathinos, puts on his first opera. He boldly explores the different facets of a work in which clash desire and sense of duty, individual destinies and collective fate.
In 1869, when Verdi undertakes the writing of Aida, these tensions were already under way. At the time of the commission, the French had completed the construction of the Suez Canal, the Khedive Ismail Pasha was struggling for legitimacy, and the founding of an opera house symbolised the aspiration to Westernization of Egyptian elites. The famous French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette suggested the theme of the opera as well as the set and costumes for its creation. Situated in the glorious past of Egypt, the story corresponds precisely to the circumstances (Giuseppe Verdi was made Knight of the Ottoman Empire). But if the score was meant for a great spectacle, its originality resided in the surprising mixture of genres, all at once grand opéra and chamber play, genre painting and intimate and introspective theatre.
For in reality, Egypt is only a façade. Behind this screen, it is the human stakes, set in motion in a libretto full of dramatic, exacerbated tensions, which excite the composer. Verdi infuses the protagonists of Aida with a heart-rending humanity. He paints the portrait of young people travelling along a common road of suffering and longing, eventually leading them towards death. Like the ancient authors, the composer had grasped that “every true knowledge of human nature depends on knowledge of the limits imposed on this very nature” (Groningen) – the limits imposed by the world or those which are self-imposed, and our presumption to surpass them. Like the Greek heroes, Aida, Amneris and Radamès are confronted with whatever surrounds them, with their own illusions and passions, and also, undoubtedly, with a force – destiny, gods, ego or bad luck, whichever name is given to it – that they are incapable of mastering. To shed light on their contradictions and conflicts, Verdi composed a music full of contrasts whose magnitude and strength makes us touch “the triumphant ideal of music, art, human heart, the high and irrefutable sublimation (…) of the vulgar ugliness of reality”, to use the words of Thomas Mann. A breath-taking music, which, in a last hallucinated scene, compels us to listen to the ultimate whispers of the lovers gradually sucked into the silence of death.
Stathis Livathinos is a theatre director fed by ancient culture and Russian theatre. In Verdi’s Aida, he has found, intact, the quality that made the strength of the great Greek tragedies, this capacity to represent, through a myth or an imaginary story, the human suffering with unmatched penetration: “All is there, before our eyes, real, near and immediate”, said Jacqueline de Romilly in a sentence that can be applied to Aida, whose music goes beyond the anecdotal to the universal.
This universality of the drama, Stathis Livathinos and his team wanted to reach by removing any exotic reference. They conceived the stage setting as the building of two planes: a portion of a desert floating in the centre of a large black plateau, a flat and raw “island”, exposing the singers to the viewers as insects under the microscope of the entomologist. Above, a heavy, charged sky emphasizes the overwhelming destiny of the trio. The director wanted to submit Verdi’s work, so often victim of misunderstandings, to a contemporary artistic vision and to reveal its profound meaning – an exercise that he had practiced for a long time in theatre, in which mastering the “truth” of the characters is the essential stake of the staging, in the direct line of a Stanislavski.
It is our musical director Alain Altinoglu who leads the La Monnaie Symphony Orchestra and Choir (prepared by the choirmaster Martino Faggiani) for the last production presented in our Palais de la Monnaie at Tour & Taxis. Samuel Jean° will direct some of the performances.