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Aida at Opera Carolina

October 28, 2013

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    October 28, 2013
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    Press
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    Opera Carolina News

Aida at Opera Carolina

With 111 people on stage between singers, dancers, choristers, and supernumeraries, plus the conductor and the large Charlotte Symphony Orchestra in the pit, one must say that Opera Carolina didn't cut any corners as far as Aida productions are concerned. No animals, though, except for some flies and mosquitoes, said Italian tenor Antonello Palombi. His colleague, American baritone Mark Rucker, added that this is just as he likes it: Aida should have no elephants, or if there is an elephant, it must wear diapers since these beasts can be unpredictable. Chatting with artists at the end of the show, one could tell by these jokes that they were happy and exhilarated with a job well done. Maestro Meena was equally in good mood, making his own contribution to the humor: when Russian mezzo Irina Mishura said that this group felt like a family after they took this show to Toledo for two runs and to Charlotte for four more for a total of six weeks together including rehearsals, Maestro Meena observed: "a dysfunctional family!"

No dysfunction could be noted during the performance. We've been to many Aidas of variable quality, but this one was done right. First of all, casting was first rate. Mr. Palombi, who commands extensive experience in his native Italy including performances at his country's most prestigious houses La Scala, La Fenice, and Teatro San Carlo, and numerous other European houses, was solid as expected in the role of Radames. His Italianate phrasing was particularly moving in the final scene.

Ms. Irina Mishura, who has sung Amneris more than 200 times since 1985 including at the Metropolitan, Covent Garden, La Scala, and the Vienna Staatsoper, is another confirmed singer who impacted upon her character not only exquisite elegance and dramatic intensity with her good acting, but also delivered an impressive vocal performance. Another experienced singer, Mr. Mark Rucker, debuted at the Met exactly in the role of Amonasro nine years ago, and his characterization of the Ethiopian king was flawless.

Of course, no Aida succeeds without a compelling leading lady. Ms. Othalie Graham is the self-confessed baby in this production, since by virtue of being a more recent graduate of the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia, she disclosed that she grew up listening to her more experienced colleagues and was thrilled to see herself on stage with them. Her youth and relative lack of experience when compared to her more seasoned co-workers, however, were not detrimental to her performance. Much the opposite, Ms. Graham was a phenomenal Aida, bringing to her character not only her convincing physique du rôle thanks to her beauty and charm, but also deeply felt pathos, and a rich and powerful voice with very pleasant timbre. Read her exclusive Opera Lively interview by clicking here.

As usual, Maestro Meena's conducting was top-notch, and the excellent Charlotte Symphony responded in kind with smooth transitions and purity of sound in the delicate moments, and enough punch in the pompous ones.

Blocking was well done, dealing efficiently with the 111 people on stage, which never appeared to be overcrowded. The physical production was very handsome, not only in the scenes with the large pharaoh head depicted above, but especially in the dark and ominous statues and tomb for the final scene. Lighting was very efficient in underlining the somber tone of this ponderous production. Unlike some Aida shows that bet on abundant doses of pomp and circumstance (including elephants, horses, and the such), the stage director and set designer seem to have privileged the pain and suffering involved in this story. It was a dark, thick, gloomy Aida, and it worked. The gravitas impacted upon the staging was noticeable, for example, in the Triumphal March, which wasn't really a march, since it had no parade and no large movement of people from one side of the stage to the other. Rather, singers and actors remained relatively static on stage, while the eight dancers performed what appeared to be a sensual choreography with attractive female Ethiopian dancers... until the Egyptians got to slain the Ethiopian dancers, with an almost shocking explosion of violence and gruesome stabbings, reminding the public that this is a story about war and cruelty, and not one of pleasant and happy celebrations.

This emphasis on the harsher aspects of the opera freshened this familiar piece sufficiently, to the point that we didn't have the impression that we were seeing "just another Aida." When we add to this, the precision of the sounds coming from the pit and the quality of the vocal performances of all four principals, we are left with a memorable Aida, one that will occupy a spot in our short list of most interesting productions we've seen of this piece, and one that was a fitting tribute to Verdi's bicentennial. Opera Carolina did it again: brought a workhorse to Charlotte while avoiding any possible boredom, which is not the easiest task for operas such as this one. We look forward to the continuation of the season, which contains two more adventurous choices: Il Trittico (January 18, 23, and 26), and The Flying Dutchman (March 22, 27, 30).

by Luiz Gazzola
Opera Lively

To read the original article, click here.