We’re all keen on infrastructure at the moment so it’s worth remembering what an astounding impact the Suez Canal made when opened in 1869. Cairo’s Royal Opera had opened just four days earlier with Rigoletto. No doubt inspired by the excitement of the Canal, and by a very large fee, Verdi agreed to write an opera for Cairo. Aida opened there in 1871. Its exotic origins helped capture the world’s imagination almost overnight.
The Opera on Sydney Harbour is also impressive infrastructure. A logistical triumph, it involves the creation of a temporary 3,000 seat venue and facilities for 330 performers and staff. Aida is the fourth such harbourside production; it runs until 26 April. The design by Mark Thompson is dominated by an 18m tall head of Nefertiti. The life-size original in Berlin’s Egyptian Museum is unforgettable; so too will be this huge waterside version with the city skyline behind her.
The link between Nefertiti and Aida is imaginary. No matter; the opera’s story is fictional, its period non-specific. It is essentially a love triangle with a triumphant Egyptian general loving a captured Ethiopian slave, Aida; he, in turn, is desired by Amneris, daughter of the Egyptian king. For her part, Aida is the daughter of the Ethiopian king. There can be no happy ending but there is much beautiful music and many stirring moments. Also camels.
The Suez Canal brought Sydney Harbour closer to Europe; the Harbour brings us closer to Verdi’s Aida.
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