Riccardo Muti leads Chicago Symphony Orchestra and CSO Chorus in triumphant ‘Aida’

– Kyle MacMillan | June 22, 2019

“Aida” might seem like an unlikely choice for a concert treatment, but this approach successfully allowed listeners to zero in on the music and use their imaginations to fill in the action.

Among the most anticipated events during Riccardo Muti’s tenure as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra have been his full-length concert presentations of operas by Giuseppe Verdi — “Otello” (2011), “Macbeth” 2013 (2013) and “Falstaff” (2016).

Not only is Muti one of the world’s preeminent interpreters of the celebrated composer’s works, his international stature allows him to assemble dream casts of soloists and then partner them with an orchestra that few if any opera houses could match.

That potent combination of elements came together again Friday evening, when the conductor and the Chicago Symphony concluded the 2018-19 season with a superb, utterly engrossing performance of “Aida,” one of Verdi’s most accomplished and oft-heard masterpieces.

The only minor blot on the evening was the surtitle screen, which was shut off after Act 1, forcing patrons to rely on a printed libretto for the English translations. According to an announcement during the first intermission, the screen was malfunctioning and making a distracting noise.

In this opera set against the backdrop of wars between Egypt and Ethiopia in the time of the ancient pharaohs, Aida, an enslaved Ethiopian princess, must choose between her love for the Egyptian general Radames and her loyalty to her father and country.

“Aida” might seem like an unlikely choice for such a concert treatment, considering that staged productions typically play up the opera’s pomp and pageantry, especially the triumphal march in the second act which has even featured elephants and other animals in some versions. But this approach successfully allowed listeners to zero in on the music and use their imaginations to fill in the action.

At the heart of this opera is the bitter romantic rivalry for Radamès between Aida (soprano Krassimira Stoyanova) and Amneris (mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili), the daughter of the Eyptian king. Their confrontational duet at the beginning of Act 2 should be and was one of the evening’s most riveting moments.

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