CERTAIN benefits have accrued while Opera North waits for a new music director. We have had dashing young conductors hoping to assert their credentials. Less showy, but more successful, have been seasoned personalities like Sir Richard Armstrong.

This new Aida has revived his triumvirate with director Annabel Arden and designer Joanna Parker, first seen in a “concert staging” with 2017 Turandot. That was powerful enough. This one packed an even greater punch.

Arden quickly established that we were in a contemporary, probably Middle Eastern, war zone. Dick Straker’s video designs – bombed streets, homeless stragglers and the like – helped but were distorted by projection onto a wrinkled sheet. They became irrelevant once the drama gathered steam.

York Press:

Eric Greene as Amonasro in Aida

The Radames of ‘Celeste Aida’, robustly delivered by Rafael Rofas, was much chastened on his return from war. Scruffy, stunned, a victim of post-traumatic stress, he made a poster-boy for pacifism.

This new persona mellowed his tone, especially alongside Alexandra Zabala’s Aida. When all about her were challenging the decibel count, she cut a poignant figure, making excellent use of the Town Hall’s resonance with exquisite high tessitura.

Alessandra Volpe’s Amneris, emotionally supercharged, used every feminine wile in the book to seduce her prey. Her protracted plea at the start of Act 4 was superbly graduated towards a climactic ‘Chi ti salva’. Eric Greene made a memorable Amonasro, notably when wringing his hands free of white plaster, as if after scrabbling in the ruins for survivors.

York Press:

Michael Druiett as The King of Egypt, Petri Lindroos as Ramfis, Alessandra Volpe as Amneris, Rafael Rojas as Radamès and Alexandra Zabala as Aida with the Chorus and Orchestra of Opera North

The Scarpia-like menace of Petri Lindroos’s Ramfis alongside Michael Druiett’s sympathetic, laid-back King showed that the monarchy had ceded power to the priesthood.

Armstrong, unassuming but authoritative, kept his expanded orchestra’s eye on the ball splendidly. Whereas the triumphal march was predictably thrilling, with six ceremonial trumpets stage-front, some of the high string lines were equally breath-taking.

Any remaining gaps were filled by the forthright 70-voice chorus, chanting or rabble-rousing from behind the orchestra. Hot on the heels of Parsifal in York Minster, the evening proved that the right kind of opera works equally well, sometimes better, away from the opera house. 

Further performances at Leeds Town Hall on May 28 and 30; Hull City Hall, June 7. Box office: Leeds, 0113 376 0318 or leedstownhall.co.uk; Hull, 01482 300306 or hulltheatres.co.uk​.