The 'Metropolitan Opera Live in HD' series is not entirely consistent. It has some gems as well as some real disappointments, while most fall within the solid-very good category. Generally do enjoy this series very much, it is interesting and it is great to feel like you are there at the Met when actually it at the cinema with full impact yet for much cheaper. This 'Aida' is very good and near-triumphant with a couple of flaws sadly bringing it down. A more than solid start to the 2018/2019 season.
Visually the production is stunning, love its grandeur and its traditional approach is appreciated, generally find that 'Aida' with such a specific setting doesn't translate well to modern productions. The sets are large and very lavish, and the costumes are intricate in detail. On a technical front when seeing it in the cinema as part of a live simulcast, it also impressed. The camera work is very good, especially in Act 2, and the picture quality is clear and sharp.
Stage direction is well and truly impressive as well, always compelling and dramatic, complete with very dynamic and deeply felt choreography. The Triumphal scene and Grand March are triumphs here (having seen quite a few productions where they are poorly, and worse, staged), few opera houses do Act 2 as well as the Met.
Musically there is very little to complain about, though Nicola Luisotti's tempos at times are a little slow in the final act. There is some really evocative orchestral playing, like in the Nile scene forming Act 3, yet it allows for the more sensitive moments like "O Patria Mia" to be every bit as effective. The chorus are well up to the task as well, their animated and individual (their acting has come on such a long way) stage presence and full-throated singing make for some outstanding work particularly in Act 2. Luisotti's conducting on the most part was alert and accommodating.
With the exception of one, the performances are of very high quality. The production is most notable for it seeing Anna Netrebko debuting the title role in another one of her transition to heavier and more dramatic roles. Did worry as to whether the role would be too heavy for her, Aida is a big sing and a difficult one. Netrebko instead is remarkable, her voice is dark and of a gleaming beauty with striking musicality, her pianissimo singing positively melting. Dramatically, she is sincere and moving while also showing steel, loyalty and in no way passive.
Netrebko is more than well matched by the magnificent Amneris of Anita Rachelishvilli, who actually steals the show in the Judgment scene and blisters in her intense confrontation with Netrebko. Her voice is rich and powerful while also attractive, and she encompasses the many complex emotions of this fascinating character never losing command. Quinn Kelsey is an authoritative and sympathetic Amonasro with a noble sturdy voice that doesn't sound taxed, and his music in the big duet between Amonasro and Aida is not easy in Act 3.
Dmitri Beloselsky is resonant and commanding as Ramfis, not in any way allowing the role to become static. Ryan Speedo Green makes the most of the relatively small but crucial role of Il Re.
The one exception to an otherwise fine cast is agreed Aleksandrs Antonenko whose Radames was pretty bad mostly. He is clearly taxed by "Celeste Aida", for being the first thing Radames sings it is a nightmare but Antonenko sounds very strained and spends the whole time looking as if he didn't have a clue what he was singing about. He also sings (or more like shouts and strains through) the rest of the role, excepting in the final tomb scene where some surprising soft singing is attempted but it feels too little too late, with no nuance, lyricism or legato, while his acting is more of the same (stand there and sing with the odd dramatic outburst) throughout. Not trying to be a killjoy, just my perception.
Overall, very good, especially for Netrebko and Rachvelishvilli despite being significantly brought down from greatness by Antonenko. 8/10 Bethany Cox