There’s a new staging of Aida being broadcast from Paris, and if reviews of it are any indication, it’s better heard than seen.

Guess which one is Aida?

An Italian critic said he hoped Paris Opera would put the production “in storage.” Another critic called it “opera madness.” “Simply outrageous,” said a viewer.

The singing is not the problem, but rather the staging that is meant to send messages not evident in Aida. According to the production’s Dutch director, Lotte de Beer, the untraditional set and action are supposed to reflect contemporary attitudes on colonialism, racism, and sexism. 

De Beer seems to recognize that burdensome new messages annexed to the opera’s themes of love, loyalty and betrayal might be lost on the audience. That perhaps explains why she offers up explanatory media interviews unveiling the hidden meanings of the now “problematic” Aida.

The acerbic dictum of Tom Wolfe, who attacked wordy promoters of modern art in his 1975 book The Painted Word, comes to mind: “Frankly these days, without a theory I can’t see the painting.”

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