Want a zombie production of 'Aida'? You've come to the right place. This highly stylized -- what else?, this is Robert Wilson -- production from Brussels' Theatre de la Monnaie was controversial at its premiere in 2004, and if this DVD of a live performance is any indication, the Belgian audience was vastly unimpressed. I recall that the production was booed by the audience when it was taken to Covent Garden. And with good reason. This is one of the most boring opera productions I've ever seen. The staging is characterized by stylized movements by the singers presumably based on poses seen in ancient Egyptian friezes and pottery. The ugly costumes are stylized Egyptian, I suppose, but look more like something to be seen on puppets. The result is that these aren't living people but ghostly avatars who certainly are not capable of the very real emotions of Verdi's characters. The result, then, is that this production is dead on arrival. No one makes eye contact with anyone else; even when Amneris commands Aida to 'look into my eyes' she turns her back on her, making the imperative impossible. Psychology? No, just plain dumb stylization that doesn't convey anything. The lengthy booklet notes attempt to assign psychological import to aspects of the production but are a good example of the philosophical sludge and special pleading of too much French writing on the arts.
Musically the production isn't half bad, although there are better ones out there -- a recent one from the Teatre Liceu in Barcelona sings rings around this Monnaie production -- but it isn't worth spending your pennies for. The best singer is probably the Hungarian mezzo Ildiko Komlosi as Amneris, but her low notes do sometimes disappear into her chest. Norma Fantini's Aida is generally effective but is occasionally shrieky. Marco Berti, as Radamès, has a beefy but unappealing tenor. Mark Doss's Amonasro is pretty good, but it's a long wait until he finally gets on in Act III! The best singers are the bassos -- Orlin Anastassov as Ramfis and Guido Jentjens as the King. The choreography is awful; one notes that the choreographer is not named; could it be at his/her request? And what's with the male dancers doing the 'Sacred Dance of the Priestesses' in Act I? The orchestra of the Monnaie plays well, and young Japanese conductor Kazushi Ono leads a rather swift and light reading of the score.
Unless you're a diehard Robert Wilson fan -- and I know he has his cult following -- I'd suggest you think carefully before you plunk down your money for this one.