Culture Magazine

Across Oceans of Sand

By Superconductor @ppelkonen
The Met's new Aida takes Verdi back to Las Vegas.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

Across Oceans of Sand

Opened in 1993, the Luxor Las Vegas hotel is an inspiration for Michael Mayer's
second Verdi production to be set in America's playground.
Photo by Miguel Hermoso Cuesta for Wikipedia Commons.

Even as the Metropolitan Opera bids farewell to its classic production of Verdi's Aida, expectations are high for its successor which is planned for opening night of the 2020 season. Details have leaked to Superconductor regarding the staging, which will be the third Verdi opera directed at the Met by Michael Mayer. Mr. Mayer, the man behind the opera company's current Rigoletto, set in Las Vegas, Nevada in the 1960s will move Verdi's Egyptian drama to the flashy modern casinos of that city's current Strip.
This Aida will have its four acts set at different Vegas locations, from the iconic pleasure palaces of the past to the sleek chrome palaces of the more recent past. It will include some hotels that are  standing and others belonging to that fabled city's past. "It makes a kind of sense," a press representative said, "going back to the glitz and glamour of Vegas for the story of Aida. If you've ever been out there, the Strip itself is kind of like the Nile River, an endless resource that ensures a cash-flow into the city, just as the flooding of the Nile helped cradle the civilization of Egypt."
Each act will take place on spectacular sets based on four different Las Vegas casino hotels. Radames, the Egyptian general who leads the troops into battle against an Ethiopian army is here reimagined along the lines of film icon Danny Ocean. He wears a tuxedo in every scene. The first act "temple scene" features Radames assembling his "team" of con men, safe-crackers and electronics experts in a stupendous setting: the Chairman's Suite at the Pharaoh Hotel with a thrilling view of the other casinos.
In this newly revised and updated libretto (rewritten and translated by Met house scribe Jeremy Sams), Jerry Radames is in love with Aida, a cocktail waitress at the Aswan Hotel on the South End of the Strip near McCarren Airport. However' he's engaged to marry Amy Neris, the daughter of the owner of the Aswan and Aida's boss. The tension mounts in the first two acts, with exciting scenes on the casino floor, the luxurious Chairman's Suite and out by the Aswan high pool as Amy lounges, attended by a female chorus.
The spectacular Triumphal March is set on South Las Vegas Boulevard, known as the fabulous Vegas "Strip." The scene has been stripped of its military associations and reimagined as the Radames Gang "parade of lights", on their way back from robbing three Vegas casinos at the same time. The brightly lit parade culminates at a reviewing stand in front of the pyramid-shaped Aswan Resort Hotel, with its bright apex light and a giant statue of the Sphinx that shoots laser beams out of its eyes. Rumor has it that this is the same prop used in the 1980s on ZZ Top's Afterburner tour.
Act III of Verdi's Aida is set on the Nile River. Here, Mr. Mayer creates the next best thing: the Nile River Tour boat ride attraction that graced the Luxor Hotel before renovations and good taste prevailed. With animatronics, lasers, a real, heavily chlorinated river on the Met stage, and a two-drink minimum, this "Valentine to Egypt" will charm all five senses. There's music too, the famous aria "O Patria Mia" reimagined by Mr. Sams as a contemporary anthem of American patriotism for today's troubled times.
All hell breaks loose when Aida's father, Amonasro Davis Jr. bursts out of the bushes and challenges his daughter to get Radames to betray his gang of con men. The unlucky Jerry is arrested by the Vegas cops, and Amy Neris' repeated efforts to bribe the LVPD, (led by Chief Ramfist) are unsuccessful. In the final tableau, the lovers are imprisoned in the sacred vault, the "count room" of the Pharaoh Casino. As Amy Neris prays for peace and increased casino profits, the Pharaoh is demolished in a spectacular and (hopefully) silent implosion, killing all the characters.
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