I’ve never seen a production of “Aida” that I have been disappointed in and this particular staged version, presented by the San Diego Opera Company in its season opener is no exception.
The evening comes alive with the sounds of the full 55 member San Diego Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Joseph Colaneri, placed comfortably on the Civic Theatre stage and backed with the opera chorus on risers set against a lazy sky with two Pyramids in the background flanked on either side of the stage with two large Egyptian figures. The stage is set, the luminaries are brought forward and tragedy follows.
|Olesya Petrova and Michelle Bradley|
The tragic love triangle of the Ethiopian Princess and now slave to Amneris, ‘Aida’ (soprano Michelle Bradley is touching and modest with a voice like an angel) and the Egyptian army officer Radames (tenor Carl Tanner is solid), struggle to keep their love a secret even under the watchful and jealous eyes of Amneris (mezzo- soprano) the Egyptian Princess, who also has her sights on him.
The San Diego Opera is presenting Verdi’s “Aida in concert form without all the ostentation most have come to expect of a Verdi Grand Opera especially “Aida”. Gone are the large sets, the multitudes, the dancers, the prisoners, the animals, the marching throngs and business on stage.
The one down side is the absence of the grand “Triumphal March” in Act II that usually includes animals, dancing and great hoards of people celebrating. For some not aware the brass section pouring out the cadences of that one long march, might stir in the veins but not so much for yours truly who half expected to see some marchers along in back of the chorus. It’s also one of the highlights in this most grandiose of operas, so another reason to keep it in somehow.
|Carl Tanner and Olesya Petrova|
All of this is replaced by a cast of some of the of the best voices money can buy, and there are just eight of them taking center stage and or moving about to zero in on some intimacy but primarily singing to the house. I understand the reason for omitting the grandness but I’m OK with a compromise including some as part of the whole.
Dressed in designer Dame Zandra Rhodes finery, each sporting their own brand of who belongs where, the performances soar. If there were rafters, it would have brought them down. Still, as minimal as it was it sent chills throughout as the story played out to its only conclusion.
Adding to the drama, sound voiced baritone Nelson Martinez is Amonasaro, Aida’s conquered father and captured King of Ethiopia, who is ushered in as one Radames’ spoils of war. When Aida sees him “Oh, patria mia” she falls prostrate at his feet as he pleads with her not to let on as to who he is.
Both Bradley and Petrova exceeded beyond anyone’s dream as the two balance their roles as oppressor and oppressed, with Petrova’s Amneris trying (openly) to convince Aida to tell her of her feelings for Radames.
|Carl Tanner as Radames|
As her protagonist Amneris worked her charms in threatening Aida into exposing herself after telling Aida that Radames was killed in battle (“Fu la sorte dell’armi”). She stood, as a constant thorn in both Radames and Aida side even promising to save him if he will renounce his love for Aida.
In her pleading aria “Ritrona vincitor”, her despair in having to choose between the fall of Egypt and Radames and the defeat of her own father, is evidenced in her pleading with the gods. It was difficult taking your eyes from her. As her namesake and focus of the opera, her star quality rang with passion and grace.
|Bernardo Bermudez, Simon Lim & Carl Tanner (left to right)|
For his part Tanner’s Radames soars right from the beginning in “Celeste Aida”. It isn’t until the last scene that we can now know what Radames is willing to give up for Aida’.
He is doomed to a life sentence to be buried alive in the Tomb as death becomes a reality (Amneris and Radames Duet) and later Radames and Aida grieve over their fate.
Adding to the overall quality Bass Simon Kim is the high priest Ramfis and Bass Mikhail Svetlov is the Egyptian King, who sets into motion the conflict created by offering Radames anything he wants. When he chooses to let the prisoner free, a plot to let him escape and take Aida with is doomed as soon as Amonasro learns of it. Soprano Tasha Koontz is the high priestess soloist in another soaring moment and tenor Bernardo Bermudez is the messenger.
Alan Hicks directs his limited cast with proficiency. Chris Rynne’s lighting sets the moods from bright and conquering to solemn, secretive and finally as dim as the chances of Aida and Radames surviving. (Farewell duo O terra, addio”).
Urban legend has it that the opera was commissioned for the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and /or to open the new Cairo Opera House of that same year. Unfortunately it was not to be. “Aida” opened in Cairo in 1871 without Verdi in attendance.
It seemed he was dissatisfied that the performance was not open to the general public. Nonetheless, it remains one of the ‘most classical and celebrated of Verdi’s stage works’. When it is open to the public audiences will flock to it.
Two thumbs up!
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Tuesday October 22, 2019 7:30 PM
Friday October 25, 2019 7:30 PM
Sunday October 27, 2019 2:00 PM
Organization: San Diego Opera
Production Type: “Aida”
Where: 1100 3rd Ave Downtown San Diego, 92101
Ticket Prices: Single Tickets start at $35.00
Venue: SD Civic Center
Photo: Edward Wilensky