Virginia Chihota in Collaboration with Opera National de Paris for the Stage Production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida

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First performed at the Cairo Opera in 1871, Aida draws us into the fantasy of a reconstructed Antiquity. At the heart of the plot, an impossible choice between love and patriotic duty. A captive Ethiopian princess and an Egyptian soldier betray their people, defy a powerful rival and unite until death. Marked by the contrast between a theatrical extravaganza and the transition towards a more intimate, personal drama, Verdi’s score manages to distinguish the inner angst of its protagonists from the imposing historical setting. The work brings together several themes dear to the composer: nostalgia for a lost homeland, deliverance through death, the contrast between a dispiriting present and an idealised elsewhere, the stifling reach of religious and political power, the regulating factors in a world intentionally littered with pitfalls.

For her Paris Opera debut, Dutch director Lotte de Beer has chosen to cast a critical eye on the European portrayal of colonised peoples, encouraging us to rethink our relationship with aesthetic productions of the past and present.

For this production, Virginia Chihota created several new, monumental works that respond to the characters and themes including ideas relating to the troubled spirit, identity, love and how to be loved, motherland, the foreign land and dominion. Over 4 acts, these works appear as scenography and her drawings were used to create the puppetry of Aida.

Introspective in nature, Chihota’s work is deeply influenced by personal experiences – landmark and everyday. In a reflection on intimacy and the human figure, she has addressed themes such as childbearing, childrearing, marriage, kinship, bereavement and faith. At once mundane and transcendental, rife with allusions to everyday life, and religious and folkloric symbolism, her large works on paper display a raw, expressionist verve and a striking grace in the elaborate use of patterns, textures and layers. Having trained as a printmaker, Chihota’s use of screen-printing is as confident as it is original. She mixes printing techniques with drawing to produce unique works of striking formal complexity. They often depict the female form blending into near abstraction, and bodies caught in strange embraces evoking a figural union; along with an iconographic repertoire which points towards the domestic whilst emphasising connectedness and collectivity. Chihota’s work highlights the ways in which the female agency disrupts borders and activates concerns around different forms of belonging. Subjectivity emerges as a concept embedded in notions of interrelatedness.

Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida premiered on 18 February 2021.


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