Aired on KSDS-FM on 10/25/19
RUN DATES: 10/18/19 – 10/27/19
VENUE: San Diego Opera/Civic Theatre
It takes a good-sized village to mount an opera. And “Aida” is giving us a peek inside.
To kick off its 55th season, San Diego Opera is presenting its eighth production of the beloved 1871 Verdi masterwork in a new way—a ‘theatricalized concert’ that puts the 80-piece orchestra right onstage with the black-clad 41-member chorus.
The pit is sealed off, so the principal singers can come further downstage, closer to the audience.
All that, coupled with an 800-thousand-dollar savings, is a good thing for a budget-conscious company.
But “Aida” is one opera that has, historically, been all about spectacle.
During the magnificent Triumphal March, when the Egyptians celebrate their victory over the Ethiopians, elaborate productions have paraded live elephants, camels or horses onstage.
There’s surprisingly little hoopla here, except a few enigmatic emblems flown down from above. Only that, to accompany this monumental composition?
On the plus side, it does focus attention on the glorious music, which is marvelously played by the San Diego Symphony, under the baton of Joseph Colaneri. Still, a little eye candy wouldn’t hurt.
The minimal scenic design, evocatively lit, consists mostly of symbols: pyramids, statuary and hieroglyphs. Zandra Rhodes created the resplendent, shimmery costumes for the seven singers center-stage.
In addition to the transcendent music, it’s the celestial voices you will remember, because therein lie all the drama and emotion. There’s very little movement from the performers. All except the jealous, vengeful Pharaoh’s daughter, Amneris, are rigid and virtually immobile throughout.
American soprano Michelle Bradley is incandescent as Aida, the hapless Ethiopian princess enslaved by the Egyptians but in love with their military leader, Radamès. Her gorgeous, supple voice could shatter glass or lull a baby to sleep. As Amneris, her rival for Radamès, Russian mezzo Olesya Petrova, exhibits exquisite potency, range and dramatic flexibility.
This pared-down experiment, also surfacing at other belt-tightening opera companies, is mostly a success. Perhaps a colossal piece like “Aida” wasn’t the perfect choice. But what the production lacks in pageantry, it makes up for in vocal and musical brilliance.
©2019 PAT LAUNER