Aida, Opera North 2019 (REF 2021 Practice Research Submission)

Parker, Joanna (2020) Aida, Opera North 2019 (REF 2021 Practice Research Submission). The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London. ISBN 978-1-8383968-3-1


Aida is a practice research project that involved the design of set, costumes and video for a new stage production of Verdi’s Aida, a key work of the European opera canon, first performed in 1871. The concert staging was commissioned by Opera North for a two-month tour in May and June 2019. My practice research as set and costume designer included directing and orchestrating the content for a videographic montage that was projected throughout the entirety of the opera as a crucial element of the overall spatial design and dramaturgy.

Verdi’s opera has come under severe attack from cultural criticism, most prominently from Edward Said, who claimed Aida represented aesthetically the warped interests and sensibilities of an imperialist Europe. This posed a major challenge to our choice of dramaturgy and resulted in a realist reading, placing Aida within a concrete contemporary context, namely the current war in Syria, whilst freeing it from any exoticizing references.

My practice research involved exploring and implementing formal design solutions that would convey our dramaturgical intentions. It set out to achieve three aims: a) to decolonize Aida by creating a mise-en-scène free of orientalist fantasy; b) to give the performance political relevance by turning Aida into an explicit anti-war piece; and c) to undermine the misogyny inherent in the original. As a result, I developed innovative scenographic methodologies that enabled a new critical space for the reception of this canonical piece. The outcome of my research addressed the interests of a more diverse twenty-first-century audience, who are increasingly engaged with issues of de-colonization and inclusion.

During its 2019 UK-wide tour, Aida was performed 12 times and seen by more than 24,000 audience members. The production won critical acclaim and has been invited for future performances by Montpellier Opera House, France and Washington National Opera, US.


Published Version - PDF (REF 2021 Practice Research Submission)

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