On Luciana D’Intino, Amneris for the Ages

08Nov07

Stark and imperial, during the day the white travertine facade of the Metropolitan Opera seems as inviting as a walk across a desert, but at night glows like a beacon to the modern, urban spirit in which it was conceived. The cloud-like apparitions of Chagall’s paintings hypnotize us and soften the disdain of the high roman arches through which we pass into the grand lobby. Though we have already seen this opera — Aida — many times and do not consider it among our favorites, we are nevertheless curious to see what is about to unfold; i.e., we feel alive. As always at the Met, we also feel young; our program tells us that the average attendee is roughly 125 years of age, with the mean somewhat less than that, at 112. Glancing around at our fellow theater-goers, this seems about right, and we are honored to be in the presence of those who have lived so long, through times — and it is hard to imagine this — even worse that what we know today. Yet no matter what joy and despair their lives have seen — and is it conceivable that anyone over a certain age has not had more than enough of both? — we are consoled by the idea that in the future, as long as we have $___ to spend on an orchestra seat (preferably no further back than row M), we too will be able, at least for these few hours, to step back from our life and examine it as a painter would an unfinished canvass. 

But as the opera begins we remain aloof, hardly moved by the tenor, though his voice is pleasing enough; nor, for all of her enthusiasm, does the Aida seem particularly compelling, although again, we have certainly seen worse. At this point we are more impressed by the unapologetically rich production; the vastness of the stage and the towering Egyptian statues that recede hundreds of feet into the dim sky above. Each costume is a study in fabulous detail, an inspiration to all with even the slightest appreciation for the incredible, transformative power of artifice. Then, as the opera continues, we find ourselves increasingly taken with Amneris, not only as a character but with the mezzo — and this would be Luciana D’Intino — portraying her. Her voice is perhaps not the most beautiful — it would never be compared to a nightingale or a running stream — but in its harsh passion and diamond technique it is unsurpassed; to hear it is to understand why the Met was built to such a scale of epic power and dimension, even at the expense of overwhelming the many lesser mortals who dare to take its endless stage. But Luciana D’Intino is clearly at home here: each time she sings we move a little closer to the edge of our seat, as if we truly didn’t know the vengeance she has planned; our thoughts race with memories of old records and the ache of distant love; we have to remind ourselves to breathe. And did we mention the brilliant acting and stage direction? Look at how she grips that feather fan as she taunts Aida! And the malicious hauteur with which she gathers her robes before taking her seat in the procession! Or how she slyly fingers the jewels of her necklace as her father the king announces his intention to marry her to Radames. Nobody has ever been prouder or more vindictive and we utterly believe her declarations to crush anyone or anything that prevents her from obtaining the one thing she can’t have, i.e., the one she loves.  But we feel a strange sympathy for her; the passion she feels seems to be our own, as will the inevitable, looming shock and subsequent resignation that comes with seeing her past blindness for what it was and her understanding of the futility to change the cold, dogmatic world in which she too is doomed to live.

Met Inside

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