Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour is now in its fourth year. An exaggerated, exuberant opera staging on an outdoor stage overlooking Sydney’s genuinely beautiful harbour. After La Traviata, Carmen, and Madama Butterfly, this year it’s Aida’s turn to have the spectacle treatment on the Fleet Steps. And make no mistake — this is pure spectacle.
With Gale Edwards directing, and overlooked by a stunning, crumbling Nefertiti head, this Aida is big, and bold, and somehow both enjoyable and disappointing at the same time.
Latonia Moore is in gorgeous voice as Aida, distressed and lost in love and disconnected from home and place; her yearning comes through with a rich fullness of tone that seems to vouch for her pure heart.
But subtleties are largely lost on large, beautifully placed stage (look slightly to the right and there’s the Opera House), along with the politically motivated plot concerning a warring Egypt and Ethiopia. Aida and Radamès (Walter Fraccaro) can’t quite sell their burning, secret love from metres apart – but then how else do you stage intimate moments on that massive outdoor stage and make it look good? You compromise, and Moore comes close to closing that chasm with the intimacy of her tone; it winds around you on the sea breeze and seems to offset the strange, too-loud sound design. But Fraccaro never rises to that challenge, or Moore’s level.
The first act is a slog. It’s all pageantry; the Triumphal March is famously opulent and here it certainly lives up to expectation, all ransacked gold and live camels and also fireworks, but it feels more ridiculous than impressive (granted, this is a line walked often during the event).
The choreography in the first act, by Lucas Jervies, also feels undercooked and underdeveloped, with no real commitment to the movement — the ritual it’s supposed to represent only ever feels half-hearted. The costumes are just as scattered at the steps. Mark Thompson has designed some real hits in Moore’s Ethopian-inspired gowns, but there are quite a few misses in the ensemble, where it ranges from Men in Black to retro science fiction screaming for roller-skates.
The second act is much more enjoyable, having dispensed with most bells and whistles and returning to the story; Moore’s Aida sings, Amneris (Milijana Nikolic) tries and tries to quash Aida’s burgeoning love and the love she receives in return; there’s an element of intrigue; Aida’s father Amonasro (Michael Honeyman) gives a pretty good revolutionary-rousing dose of charisma. The second act is a perfectly pleasant, enjoyable, experience.
But it doesn’t quite excuse the first act, and on opening night many people didn’t last beyond intermission, and the applause at curtain call was more perfunctory than appreciative. There just wasn’t much heart to this Aida, outside the stunning Latonia Moore, so it’s easy to understand the fleeing and dismissive audience. When it’s all flash, no depth, how invested can you really be?