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Outdoor Performance Of “Aida” at Original Site Draws Mixed Reviews

May 3, 1987

LUXOR, Egypt (AP) _ An unprecedented performance of ″Aida″ in the ruins of a pharoah’s temple drew mixed reviews Sunday. Opera tenor Placido Domingo called the experience ″not to be believed″ but some listeners said the acoustics spoiled the show.

These critics complained of an echo effect, which they dubbed ″double Domingo,″ in the open-air theater.

A glittering first-night audience of nearly 5,000, including Spain’s Queen Sophia and Princess Caroline of Monaco, packed the grandstand specially built for the spectacle. The production featured an Arena de Verona opera company cast of 1,500 and was planned to run for 10 performances.

The sold-out Saturday night debut marked the first time the classic love story of a pharoah’s son and an Ethiopian slave girl was staged at the 3,400- year-old Luxor temple - the setting intended by Italy’s Guiseppe Verdi when he composed it to mark the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869.

The heavily promoted extravaganza attracted an audience ranging from European jet setters to well-heeled tourists. Seats went for $250 to $500 each.

With gowns, furs and jewelry in abundance, the rich and famous stepped carefully through Luxor temple’s dusty stones. Plainclothesmen cleared the way for Sophia and Egypt’s first lady Suzanne Mubarak.

Britain’s Prince Charles and Princess Diana, and Queen Nour of Jordan were invited but did not attend.

Spanish superstar Domingo, signed to play the male lead of Radames for opening night only, told a news conference later that despite some sound problems, he would do it again.

Italian soprano Maria Chiara plays Aida.

″It is not to be believed, especially singing,″ Domingo said of performing ″Aida″ at the temple.

Entrepreneur Fawzi Mitwalli, an Egyptian-born mineral oil millionaire and opera buff who lives in Vienna and claims to have invested $10 million of his money in the show, told Domingo, ″Last night (Saturday), you looked like you became Radames.″

″Yes, I felt that,″ Domingo replied.

Not all critics and listeners agreed.

″This was a total disaster. For this price, we can subscribe to La Scala (Milan’s Opera House) for a whole year,″ said a West German opera lover, who insisted on anonymity.

″Only Beethoven would love it, when he was stone-deaf,″ said Paul de Neef, a Dutch critic for the newspaper Ecsevier.

Even Domingo conceded he was ″a little bit disappointed″ in the sound system. ″If I had known about it before, I would have solved it, but it’s too late now,″ he said.

He also said he felt the ticket prices were justified because it was ″a first-time happening″ with ″a crowd of jet society coming from around the world,″ rather than just opera fans.

Mitwalli said he stood to lose $1 million from the 10-day run because only 20,000 tickets were sold. Sales had been expected to reach 30,000.

Carmen Schranz, a Mitwalli aide, said none of the remaining nine performances were sold out, but there were no plans to lower ticket prices.

Technical problems plagued Italian and British crews who set up the stage and seating area, but most appeared solved by opening night. Egyptian officials originally fretted about possible damage to the ancient site.

Luxor, a major tourist attraction with its Luxor and Karnak temples and the famous Valley of the Kings nearby on the west bank of the Nile, was given a special face-lift for ″Aida.″

Street cleaners worked for two weeks to sweep away sand blown in by annual desert storms.

Buggy drivers called out, ″Opera Aida, Opera Aida.″

One taxi driver seemed puzzled by all the fuss. ″Who is this rich Aida lady from Europe?″ he asked a visitor. ″Why is she coming here now?″

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