Royal Albert Hall’s Aida: from the eyes of a massage therapist

By Paola Bassanese

A spectacular show of force and emotion

First things first, a word of warning: this is an indulgent and arbitrary review of the last performance of Aida at the Royal Albert Hall on 11th March 2011. As a massage therapist, my viewpoint is non technical with regards to opera and these are personal comments and observations.

Because I am totally biased, I will focus on some elements of the opera that struck a chord with me (pun intended). It was indeed one of my massage clients, a cellist with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, who inspired me to see Aida at Royal Albert Hall.

Taking everything in was daunting: the central scene with the archeological dig superimposed with the action in Ancient Egypt, the corus perched above the gallery, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra facing the stage.

Using a narrator in the form of Egyptologist Amelia Edwards created a sense of intimacy as both her and us the public witnessed the events unfolding to their tragic end. Isabella Bywater designed stage, video projections and costumes.

The cast on 11th March included Catrin Aur as Aida (stunning green silk gown, beautiful voice and great intensity and stage presence), Jonathan Stoughton as Radames, Antonia Sotgiu as Amneris (mesmerisingly evil and entirely fascinating), Robert Poulton as Amonastro and a special mention to Robert Winslade Anderson as Ramfis, whose perfect Italian pronunciation was simply magnificent.

Andrew Greenwood was conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Directed by Stephen Medcalf, this production of Aida at the Royal Albert Hall mixed technology (back projections) with contemporary dance and even depicted a spa bathing experience beautifully inclusing a  massage scene (where can I buy that Egyptian spa package?).

Looking at the bathing scene with the discerning eyes of a massage therapist, I was impressed with the accuracy of the massage sequence which was beautifully and elegantly choreographed. A lovely tableaux where young girls were bathing, joking, running around laughing splashing water and some of them receiving a neck, shoulders and arms rub.

The orchestra was lively and accurate in the execution. I paid special attention to the string section and how physically demanding playing for 3 hours is. With strings instruments, the right and left hand have different functions. The right arm leads from the deltoids and rotator cuff, moving the arch with various levels of intensity and speed. The grip should be loose and not tight to avoid repetitive strain injury. The left arm and particularly the forearm engages the fingers in a rapid succession of small and precise movements. The left forearm muscles, both flexors and extensors, are constantly working. Again, the deltoid is engaged but with a different function of elevating the left arm while the trapezius and rhomboids provide stability.

A musician’s neck is often tilted either to keep the instrument in place over the collarbone or to check the score and conductor. The pectoralis muscles are constantly contracted.

Analysing movement from the standpoint of a massage professional, the priority of a therapist is to loosen the muscles of musicians and increase their flexibility while diffusing any build up of tension.


You may also like to read Sir Antonio Pappano: masterful orchestra conducting