Sometimes, though, you get a whiff of the bad old days, like a sudden glimpse of the seedy, pre-Disney Times Square. That was the perverse glory of the “Aida” on Monday. Returning for four performances after a starry run in the fall — followed by three more, with a new cast, later in the winter — the show stumbled from start to finish.
Summoning a quartet of great Verdi singers — soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor and baritone — isn’t easy, but there’s no reason a major opera house should go 0 for 4. The tenor Yonghoon Lee fared best of the central foursome as Radamès, but apart from a loud, tightly ringing high register, his sound lost energy lower down and tended to thin into a croon at anything softer than a scream. Roberto Frontali’s voice lacked focus as it delved into Amonasro’s baritonal depths.
The mezzo Dolora Zajick, who has been singing Amneris at the Met for 30 years, is, at 66, a wonder of longevity. But her once-mighty volume has faded, other than an occasional forced burst of blunt power, leaving only her stolid, vaguely querulous portrayal of this complex character.
Making her Met debut as Aida, a role she’s sung around the world, the soprano Kristin Lewis lacked vocal fullness and color; her performance gave the impression of a faint pencil sketch of the part. (Sondra Radvanovsky was originally scheduled, but canceled on Christmas Eve.) The bass Soloman Howard, as the King, was the only one onstage with a dependably steady, clear, penetrating sound. This muted ensemble was presided over with brisk facelessness by the conductor Nicola Luisotti, who gave little sense of the majestic atmosphere that should fill the work’s civic scenes, nor of the urgency of the personal drama.
It was a vexed evening all around. Ms. Lewis seemed to be nearly crushed by a lowering set before “Ritorna vincitor.” The amplification of the offstage priests in the Judgment Scene was distorted, resulting in weird sibilants blaring from above the proscenium. Even one of the horses in the Triumphal Scene bridled hard, all too ready to bolt the stage.