• Aida at North Carolina Opera



    Aida
    , music by Giuseppe Verdi, libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni, based on a scenario by Auguste Mariette and Camille du Locle - World Premiere, Cairo Opera House, December 24, 1871

    Semi-staged, sung in Italian, with English supertitles

    North Carolina Opera Orchestra conducted by Timothy Myers
    North Carolina Opera Chorus; chorus master Scott MacLeod
    Stage Director David Paul (read his interesting interview with Opera Lively, [here])

    Aida - Angela Brown, soprano (her Opera Lively interview is at the same link above)
    Radames - Issachah Savage, tenor
    Amneris - Leann Sandel-Pantaleo, mezzo-soprano (her Opera Lively interview is at the same link above)
    Amonasro - Todd Thomas, baritone
    Ramfis - Kenneth Kellogg, bass
    The King of Egypt - Donald Hartmann, bass
    Priestess - Andrea Edith Moore, soprano
    Messenger - Wade Henderson, tenor
    Supernumeraries, 7 women, 14 men

    Lighting Designer - Ross Kolman
    Wig and Make-up Designer - Sondra Nottingham
    Costume Coordinator - Denise Schumaker
    Props Master - Aline Johnson
    English Captions - Jonathan Dean

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    NC Opera raised the curtain for its first production (Tosca) as recently as October 2010. Eric Mitchko, the General Director, was hired in June 2010 to get the new company going, and young, bright conductor Timothy Myers joined as Artistic Director. The company was founded as the result of the merger of two earlier organizations, the Opera Company of North Carolina, and Capital Opera Raleigh, both struggling to present opera of decent quality to the Triangle population.

    I must say, under the leadership of the two directors, this company came a long way, and is reaching maturity at lightening speed. The rapid evolution is very visible. From so-so, tentative outings, in this very short period the company has achieved the ability to put on stage an orchestra capable of passing the Wagner test with flying colors (earlier this season we had a very good performance of Act I of Die Walküre followed by a concert with pieces as sophisticated as the Liebestod, complete with Wagnerian instruments brought in from Atlanta), and now it is presenting the rather grandiose and difficult Aida in a very convincing manner, including a chorus that is several notches above its condition of just a couple of years ago when I listened to them in Carmen, in October 2011.

    Fully staged opera by a regional company is extremely expensive, and in this day and age of economic crisis, the company has made good decisions in terms of where to spend its limited budget. Not building sets cuts down in rehearsal time by a good two weeks and dramatically decreases costs, which frees up money to hire a good cast - a much more important component for good opera. Then, with judicious use of projections, and with renting lavish costumes and beautiful props (these came from Dallas Opera), the lack of a set is barely noticed. This is exactly what happened in this Aida. I'd call it "the semi-staged production that feels fully staged." Costumes, props, and make-up were frankly luxurious and very beautiful, achieving the required grandiose effect for a piece like Aida - we got a very satisfactory Triumphal March. Projections of Pharaoh heads and hieroglyphs on the wooded panels behind the orchestra added the Egyptian feel, and the simple use of movable columns to delineate spaces (such as the fourth act tomb) was effective and clever. Good theatrical lighting helped in creating the various atmospheric shades in different scenes (such as when Amneris despairs during Radames' judgment off-stage: the singer kept looking with dread to the right side of the stage from which an ominous red glare hitting the movable columns made the scene as good as any that I've seen with full sets).

    Another item that paid off in terms of careful use of resources, was the hiring of the talented young director David Paul. Acting, especially by the two leading female characters Aida and Amneris, was of very good dramatic quality.

    While the grand gestures of this opera were appropriately rendered by all of the above, the semi-staged environment actually had another positive consequence: the most intimate, chamber opera-like moments of this piece that has as one of its main assets the variety between grand national pomp and mellow psychological nuances, were delicately done. It seems like the orchestra on stage right behind the singers in a relatively small venue with excellent acoustics such as Chapel Hill's Memorial Hall, was able under Tim Myers competent hands to bring down the dynamics and play very softly, allowing the singers to go pianissimo and mesmerize the audience with the subtle feelings that Verdi set so well to music.

    With all the above said and done, let's now focus on the best part of the evening: the singing. I confess that I'm very impressed. This was my fourth live opera this week, coming from the Metropolitan Opera House where on Monday I attended Siegfried with luminaries such as Jay Hunter Morris, Eric Owens, and Hans-Peter König, then on Tuesday I saw Giulio Cesare with Natalie Dessay and David Daniels, followed by Vittorio Grigolo and Lisette Oropesa in Rigoletto. So, I thought I was due for some let-down, and driving up to Memorial Hall I was telling my wife that I was apprehensive for the unknown quantity of a young tenor like Mr. Issachah Savage.

    Well, what a surprise! From the moment he attacked Celeste Aida, my jaw dropped! I thought, "Oh my God, where do Eric and Tim find these people???" North Carolina Opera's ability to cast well is rapidly becoming notorious in our state's operatic environment (which probably has to do with the fact that the general director can help his artistic director, given his numerous contacts with agents from his past tenure as vice-president of Columbia Artists Management in New York City). Mr. Savage was phenomenal as Radames, starting with his beautiful timbre, and continuing through great projection and Italianate phrasing, all the way to excellent pitch control both on the top and the bottom of his range. This was a superb Radames, which is already a third of what is needed for a beautiful Aida. And it's the young singer's role debut!

    While Ms. Leann Sandel-Pantaleo started a bit cold in first act, her voice warmed up and blossomed rapidly, and achieved fabulous dramatic impact in her two most chilling scenes, the confrontation with Aida in Act II, and her tour-de-force in Act IV, which Ms. Sandel-Pantaleo rendered with pinpoint accuracy and goose-bumping power - not to forget, her acting was exquisite.

    I wasn't, of course, apprehensive for Angela Brown. The experienced singer has performed this role in the most prestigious venues world-wide, and she continues to display the required piercing squillo to soar above the orchestra in the highest parts of the vocal score. Her top is naturally strong but limpid, and her passagio is impeccable, maintaining the correct pitch throughout it.

    So, there we go, the other two thirds were there as well. And the comprimario roles were also notable, especially Todd Thomas whom I've heard live on stage now for the third time, and was able to once more appreciate his excellent Italianate phrasing as Amonasro. Another good surprise - thus far an unknown quantity for me - was Kenneth Kellog whose beautiful bass voice aced the role of Ramfis. Donald Hartmann had a less successful night as the King of Egypt.

    I must say, my fourth live opera this week was no let down, but rather, an unqualified success. Musically speaking, it had enough quality to have happened in any prestigious venue without shame. That it happened right here in Chapel Hill by a company that hasn't yet completed its third year of existence is simply phenomenal, and very encouraging for the future of opera in the Triangle of North Carolina.

    I look forward to Così Fan Tutte in October. If this third offering in 2013 by NC Opera gets to be as good as the Wagner Concert and Aida, we'll be in for a treat. [Click (here) for Così tickets - support your regional opera company].

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    The production reviewed here will be given again this Sunday May 5th in Raleigh at 3 PM (Meymandi Concert Hall) and is not to be missed! Tickets [here].

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    This article was originally published in forum thread: Aida at North Carolina Opera started by Almaviva View original post


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