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Review: 'Aida' has grand scale

February 01, 2008

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    February 01, 2008
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    Opera Carolina News

Review: 'Aida' has grand scale

The massive columns and crossbeams didn't just dominate the Belk Theater stage. They looked like they could've supported a 60-story tower to match the one standing nearby.

So the set for Opera Carolina's "Aida" had a powerful architecture. The whole production did, actually.

Giuseppe Verdi's love-triangle saga played out Thursday as a flood of bold images and full-throated singing. Some subtleties fell by the wayside. But "Aida" got a treatment that suited its status as the archetypal grand opera.

The sets, designed by Phil Silver for the New Orleans Opera, established the ancient-Egypt locale through statues and icons as imposing as those columns. Director Trevore Ross apparently took his cue from there. Whether a scene employed three singers or a stageful, Ross set them up in tableaux that had a simple, powerful geometry.

When the chorus was onstage, Ross had it stand stock-still in formation. The principals moved around more, but not a lot more. They conveyed their characters' passions more through their gestures -- which usually were big and broad -- and of course through their singing. That, too, was usually big.

As Aida, the slave in love with an Egyptian warrior, Susan Patterson poured out hefty, surging tones that exuded Aida's anguish at her relentless misfortunes. Elena Bocharova made the princess Amneris -- Aida's rival in love -- a formidable opponent. Letting fly with vibrant high notes, belting out gutsy low ones, she filled Amneris' threats with steely resolve.

Portraying the object of their rivalry, the warrior Radames, Antonio Nagore sang with masculine ring, though top notes sometimes strained him. As Aida's father, the Ethiopian warrior Amonasro, Gaetan Laperriere gave the music a bite that captured Amonasro's lust for revenge.

Nagore treated the music to traces of tenderness, too. Bocharova also throttled back a little when it was time for Amneris to profess love. But Patterson's Aida practically always went full force -- even in the final duet with Radames, where there voices are supposed to die out just as their characters do. Verdi's poetry was lost.

The supporting roles were less imposingly done. But the chorus -- a combination of Opera Carolina's own group and the Concert Choir from Gethsemane AME Zion Church -- was sturdy and vigorous. Eight dancers enhanced the air of ritual and celebration through Martha Connerton's intricately patterned choreography. The Triumphal Scene's procession gained a wild-kingdom flavor through the participation of a camel, zebra, ox and -- climactically -- enormous white horse towering above its handlers to pull Radames' chariot.

The Charlotte Symphony towered, too, when it could let loose at full, brassy force -- and especially when three ceremonial trumpets cut loose onstage in the Triumphal Scene. There and in the whole score, conductor James Meena put the music's ring and sweep in the forefront. Occasionally sometimes the singers were pressed to keep up. And the orchestra wasn't so secure when Verdi needed tenderness. Then it sounded thin -- especially the strings. But those columns onstage kept the grandeur in the spotlight.

Charlotte Observer