Guiseppe Verdi's opera Aida was received with critical acclaim when it opened in Cairo on 24 December 1871, and the great man himself would be proud to know that, 146 years on, it lives on in all it's dramatic glory, thanks to Elton John's soaring score, Tim Rice's terrific lyrics and Solihull Theatre Company's brilliantly sparkling performance of this classic tale of love, war and tragedy.
The central theme of star crossed lovers is set against the backdrop of war and the capture of slaves from the land of Nubia by the Egyptians. Among those captured in one raid is Aida, a Princess of Nubia, who quickly makes an impression upon the Egyptian Court, as well as Captain Ramades (who captured her and her countrywomen), and becomes hand maiden to an Egyptian princess.
The story may have been set in ancient Egypt, but there was nothing old or tired about this production. The set impressed from the moment it was revealed at the beginning of the show, with a refreshingly bright look to it and skilfully managed by the invisible backstage team. The show begins in modern Egypt, with tourists admiring the ancient monuments on show, and we are quickly introduced to the pleasingly strong vocals of Princess Amneris, played by Kara Robinson, in the opening number Every Story Is A Love Story. Kara continued to impress as she played the Egyptian princess, who seems at first to be rather shallow but who then reveals a more mellow and deep side to her character; these were depicted with surety by Kara's excellent acting and particularly fine rendition of the number My Strongest Suit.
Guiseppe Verdi wrote the role of Aida originally for Teresa Stoltz, and had Charley Branson been alive in 1871, Ms Stoltz would have had a run for her money. Charley's authoritative and beautifully controlled vocals stood up to the challenge of the huge role of the Nubian princess captured into slavery with what seemed like effortless ease in every number, with superb light and shade and magnificent volume in equal parts. She injected pathos and strength into the character and Radames, the Egyptian captain who is betrothed to Amneris, could not fail to be won over by this wilful, charming and unlikely slave. The role of the ultimately doomed Captain was played with mastery by Dan Gough, who left the audience in no doubt of the dilemma he found himself in by falling for Aida.
The principal line up was complemented superbly by David Page's wonderfully convincing portrayal of Mereb, another Nubian slave and servant to Captain Ramades, who's commanding vocal talent was on show in the duet How I Know You, and by STC debutante Emily Gee, who delighted the audience with her fiercely loyal depiction of slave Nehebka, surprising us with an excellent vocal performance in The Dance Of The Robe, and pleasing us with characterisation worthy of a more experienced actress.
The dishonourable and sinister side of ancient Egypt was also on display in Steve Hayes's evil and chilling depiction of Ramdes's father Zoser, and he shone superlatively in the duet Like Father Like Son.
There were some truly wonderful musical moments, enhanced by the outstanding band; the quartet Not Me was delivered with pristine, spine tingling harmonies, the reprise of Enchantment Passing Through brought a tear to the eye, and the chorus numbers stood out for their tight, securely delivered singing.
In a musical it is easy to forget the non-singing roles; Jon Sheridan (Pharaoh) presided over the Egyptian court with fearsome authority, and Paul Stainton was equally strong as Amonasro, Aida's father, the King of Nubia.
A company performance can only ever be as good as the production team behind it, and huge praise and accolades must be heaped upon the superb production team of Terry Wheddon (Director), Pauline Elliker (Choreographer) and Stephen Perrins (Musical Director). It was clear from the moment the curtains opened that this was a production of vision and conviction, supplemented by precise drilling of the entire cast which paid off in spades with the slick dancing and dazzling singing of the entire company.
If you would like to be transported back to the Land of The Pharaohs this weekend, there are still ticket available.
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