A famous Russian operatic soprano Anna Netrebko is soon to shake foundations during the Salzburg Festival in Verdi’s Aida — the new collaboration with Iranian artist and filmmaker Shirin Neshat who has been appointed opera’s artistic director. Tatyana van Walsum designed the costumes for the production. Riccardo Muti will conduct the Vienna Philharmonic. Some 15 years ago Anna Netrebko started as Donna Anna at the Salzburg Festival, now she will make her role debut as Aida. This will also mark her sixth Verdi role, as she has already performed in the composer’s Giovanna D’Arco, Macbeth, Rigoletto, Il Trovatore and La Traviata. It will also mark the third collaboration between Muti and Netrebko.
The soprano will be joined alongside other Russian singers Ekaterina Semenchuk (Amneris), Dmitry Belosselskiy (Ramfis) and Yusif Eyvazov in the role of Radamès. The opera will be sung in Italian with German and English surtitles.It is decidedly going to be one of the most anticipated and intriguing highlights of the season!
When she received the offer from Markus Hinterhäuser to direct Aida in Salzburg, Shirin Neshat recalls that her first thought was: “He must be crazy”. However, the more she thought about it and the more she delved into the story, the better she understood why he had asked her. Shirin Neshat is an artist who has always been in transformation. Having started with photography, the exiled Iranian moved on to video and has now come to direct an opera. “I admire Markus for the trust he has placed in me, and for his courage in appointing me,” — related Shirin Neshat. “Initially I was certainly a little bit afraid, but I rose to the challenge. Both in my work and in my private life, there is a dichotomy between being a woman and fighting political tyranny and oppression. I identify with Aida” — concluded the new artistic director. “I know how Aida must feel; you undergo a process, you become aware that you can go on, that you can fall in love again, adapt to the circumstances… Aida is a survivor, experiencing the phases of nostalgia, rage, hope for a return – all the range of emotions priop to accepting that there is no way back. She continues to live with an unresolved situation”. “Sometimes the boundaries between Aida and myself are blurred,” the artist adds.
The greatest problem with the traditional portrayal of Aida Shirin Neshat sees in the fact that the opera is too enamoured of the glamour of war and its triumphalism. Shirin Neshat sees her goal in placing a major accent onto the human tragedy: for instance, the dancers wearing animal-like masks in one of the scenes appear more like ghosts. The figures on stage are unable to see them; they seem supernatural guides through the worlds of the Egyptians and Ethiopians with stylized movements. Their point is to help emphasize the tragedy of Aida, instead of glorifying war.
Shirin Neshat has also decided to use videos with images of her people while Aida sings. Another video is screened during Radamès’ secret trial at the end of the opera. Neshat created these videos in Vienna with Syrian and African refugees, but also with Austrians. The question that remains at the end of this tragic opera is: “Is there hope?” “I thought about the opera’s ending for a long time,” says Shirin Neshat. “And I find it a wonderful ending. – After all, it ends with the human decision by Aida and Radamès to resist the rules of power, and to choose death instead. It is a human decision, a human ending. To me, there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” the director explains.
About the opera:
Aida is Giuseppe Verdi’s third-last opera – it was to be followed, at lengthy intervals by Otello and Falstaff. It is a well-known fact that Aida premiered successfully at the newly opened opera house in Cairo in 1871. The persistent claim that it was composed for the opening of the Suez Canal is, however, incorrect; Verdi was merely asked to write an inaugural hymn but declined the commission, making it clear that he was not a composer of ‘occasional pieces’.
Aida was commissioned by khedive Ismail Pasha with his wish for a work that was based on purely Egyptian sources. The opera was first performed at Cairo’s Khedivial Opera House on 24 December 1871khedive. The famous French archaeologist Auguste Mariette, who penned the first libretto of Aida, was famous for having excavated half of Ancient Egypt. During his preparations for the opera Verdi had also researched on Egyptian geography, religious traditions and ancient musical instruments. The latter found expression in the so-called Egyptian trumpets that were fabricated specially for the famous (or perhaps notorious) Grand March and in their outward appearance resemble ancient Egyptian instruments. When listening to Verdi’s music, one becomes aware that the composer was concerned not with operatically interpreted history but – as in so many of his operas – with a critique of an inhuman society.
Aida is ‘Verdi’s finest work’, wrote the contemporary composer Dieter Schnebel, praising its music as expressing a ‘warm humanity that translates the human suffering of the individual and the many in nature and the world into an artistic utopia of tragic beauty and beautiful tragedy’.
In this release we used extracts from Bettina Auer’s article translated by Sophie Kidd and published on the website of Salzburg Festival.
GALA SOIRÉE After the opening night on 6 August there will be a gala soirée in honour of the artists in the Salzburg Residenz. The net profit will benefit the Salzburg Festival’s education programmes.