Aida - April 2005

KENTISH Opera performed its first opera in 1951 - a production of Mozart's somewhat risqué masterpiece Cosi fan tutte which has a subtitle that offers few favours to the female sex, writes Roy Atterbury.

At the time, the opera was just beginning to enjoy a popularity that ended some barren years for the work, but it was a sign of things to come when the new company avoided the easy option of performing a very well known opera. Over the years, and now with Sally Langford as artistic director, Kentish Opera must be one of the leading pro/am opera companies in the United Kingdom, if not Europe.

Its latest production of Verdi's Aida had more than 100 performers, stunning scenes, extremely impressive modular sets by Enid Strutt, military, religious, royal and other costumes that looked as if they had just been plucked from the time of the pharaohs (or kings of Egypt).

Carol Stevenson had designed the costumes to make an impact and she could not have achieved more. Quite how a director can deal with an opera lasting almost three hours with such a large chorus, dancers, acrobats, experts in Shaolin Kung Fu (developed in Japan 1,500 years ago) and, of course the principals, is something that only Sally Langford can describe.

Certainly the expert help of dance director Terry John Bates would have helped in the exciting choreography but the challenge must have been daunting.

Soprano Ruth Kerr created a magical and sensitive portrayal of the Ethiopian Princess Aida who had become a slave of Amneris, the Princess of Egypt.

The two roles could not have been more different, with Aida's gentle simplicity providing a sharp contrast to the remarkable dramatic power of mezzo soprano Gaynor Keeble.

As the army captain Radames, who is loved by both women, the impressive tenor David Newman, pictured with Ruth Kerr, created a strong-willed man with the air of almost poetic romanticism.

His depth of feeling for Aida permeated the opera throughout and the excellent orchestra conducted by Mark FitzGerald created a flawless interpretation of the score. Great bass singing and acting by Gary Coward as Aida's father, the rich bass of the impressive Freddy Tong, playing the Egyptian King, and the powerful presence generated by bass Julian Close as the High Priest, brought a profound air of professionalism to the action.

Indeed, the death scene that closes the opera was as emotional as any I have seen.

Roy Atterbury - Kentish Times