Interview with Jasper Barendregt, producer of the arena opera event AIDA!
Verdi's AIDA is one of the opera classics par excellence and has been staged and performed again and again since its premiere in 1871. What do you think people find so fascinating about the play AIDA?
I can't speak for other people, of course, but for me it's the fact that Aida is an absolute synthesis of the arts. The music is not a mere stringing together of individual songs, as is the case with some other operas. Verdi chose his music as the driving force to unfold the story, and along the way, with AIDA, he produced a large number of melodies that are also played individually not only in opera houses but are also frequently used in sports or advertising.
What makes this AIDA production different from other AIDA productions?
Our AIDA is different from other productions in so many ways. Let's start with the story: In many opera houses, it's assumed that the audience already knows the plot completely and that the audience understands virtually every plot line. The first big step we took is to design our Aida in such a way that you don't have to go to Wikipedia and read and internalize the story before the opera starts.
Our production takes place on a stage that would never fit in an opera house. The orchestra at the base of the temple facade is the focal point of our production - the playing area is above, in front of and to the side of the orchestra. In front of the stage, 3 paths project deep into the audience, and our soloists also deliberately seek proximity to the spectators. The action doesn't just stay on stage, performers make appearances in the audience and soldiers appear from all corners of the arena. The Nile, which is used for a scene in the second act, flows as a cloth across the audience, over the heads of the audience onto the stage. The scent of Egypt, created by means of 20,000 ml of perfume, immerses our audience even more intensely in ancient Egypt, and when Aida sings her famous aria "Patria Mia" (which, by the way, is so well known that almost everyone knows it without knowing that it comes from AIDA) thousands and thousands of lights on the tribune light up around her like stars. The audience plays a central role in the scene and is invited to be part of the opera, the way it really only happens at pop concerts in arenas around the world. We stay true to the music, but also dare to break with certain rules and conventions. We make AIDA for people interested in music, whether young or old, opera fan or not. By the way, you don't need to wear a suit or an evening gown with us. Jeans and chucks are just as welcome as a tuxedo or onesie! Opera is for everyone.
The size and dimension of this AIDA production in particular brings many challenges. What do you think is the biggest one and how do you plan to face it?
To stage an opera of this size, you must overcome many challenges. Probably the biggest challenge, from my point of view, is to convince the audience that this opera is different from what they expect in the opera house. Our audience consists not only of people interested in opera, but also of people of all ages who are interested in events and who perhaps want to see an event with classical music for the first time. To win this audience for our AIDA, a lot of convincing has to be done.
There was an extensive survey in northern Germany on the subject of opera attendance. The most frequently cited reason for NOT attending an opera was "I don't know what to wear!". Obviously, the threshold to go to the opera house is too high for many people. Perhaps people fear a "catalog of behavior for going to the opera" that they can't or don't want to follow. Our challenge is to impress the message "Opera is not dusty and elitist, but a modern musical experience for all the senses" on the audience. I am convinced that once our audience has sat in the hall, everyone will talk about it enthusiastically afterwards and want to come again next time.
This AIDA production is multimedia. There are omni-surround speakers, projectors, LED walls and countless cameras and spotlights. What possibilities does this open?
Verdi's music leaves very little to be desired. But we set out to take our audience to ancient Egypt even before the opera begins. The AIDA experience begins as soon as you enter the hall. To this end, we have developed a "soundtrack" with the chirping of crickets and the sound of a warm breeze on a starry night.
This soundtrack doesn't stop when the opera begins. It continues as a soft background to the opera and at some points underscores the events on stage: the turning of the mighty stairs, the opening of the palace gates, marching soldiers, the cry of a hawk. We underline the action on stage with this quiet 3D soundscape and thereby enrich our opera like the soundtrack enriches the film.
In 2004, there was already such an AIDA production. Also in Hamburg. What experience will you take with you from that production into AIDA 2023?
In 2004, we staged an AIDA for the first time in the arena, which was specially developed for it. We took the experience from that production into the development of our AIDA. However, almost 20 years have passed and not only the technology has evolved. The audience is also not the same as it was 20 years ago when our first AIDA was launched, and of course the audience today is also different from that of more than 100 years ago when Verdi composed his opera. We developed the opera with knowledge from 2022, so in 2004, video technology was not used in the production. However, modern video technology makes it possible to experience the performers both LIVE on stage and up close via a 100sqm screen. This creates intimacy in the midst of Egypt's vast scenery. The big is bigger, the small is more intimate and together with more than 9,000 people you become part of the love story around AIDA, Amneris and Radames.
Thank you Jasper!