BWW Reviews: Houston Grand Opera's AIDA is Spellbinding and Sumptuous
Giuseppe Verdi's 1871 opera AIDA is a worldwide phenomenon. It has been adapted into several films, Elton John and Tim Rice adapted it into a Broadway musical with the same title, and, as of 2007, New York City's Metropolitan Opera has given over 1,100 performances of the opera, making it their second most frequently produced work. Oozing with spectacle and pageantry, Houston Grand Opera's (HGO) current production of the beloved opera is a spellbinding and sumptuous beginning to their new season.
Following the direction of Jo Davies, Jose Maria Condemi makes a splendid HGO debut with this lavish production of AIDA. Only familiar with the Broadway musical walking into AIDA, I was blown away by how richly affective the original opera is. Even with the liberties that Disney Theatrics took with the show, the basic plot is mostly the same. However, Jose Maria Condemi has coached his cast perform the familiar plot with such energy and life that the story feels completely fresh and original.
Soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska sings the titular role of Aida with radiant passion and conviction. She expertly blends emotionality into every aria and scene, earning voluminous cheers and applause throughout the evening. Standout performances include Act III's "Qui Radamès verrà!" and "O patria mia (O cieli azzurri)," where Liudmyla Monastyrska brings powerfully impacting emotional scope to her role. As she sings of her unyielding love for Radames and about how she fears she'll forget her country, she moves our hearts with soaring vocals that pierce the stratosphere.
Riccardo Massi's tenor instrument shimmers with sincerity as he sings Radames. From Act I's "Se quel guerrier io fossi!" and "Celeste Aida" to Act IV's "Vedi? Di morte l'angelo," he commands rapt attention. Riccardo Massi emotes with fervor, allowing our hearts to embrace his character. Guiseppe Verdi wrote Radames as a true archetype of the star-crossed lover, so overall his arc is rather flat. Despite this, Riccardo Massi brings intriguing life into the role.
Watching HGO's production of AIDA, I was astounded by mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick's Amneris. With my knowledge of Disney's AIDA, I was amazed by the strength and sometimes viciousness of the character. While not fully a villain, Dolora Zajick's Amneris is a volatile force to be reckoned with. She matches this powerhouse spirit with her uncompromisingly gorgeous and riveting singing voice, delivering awesome performances of songs like "Traditor! La mia rival!"
Other standouts from the principal cast include Ain Anger's resonating and authoritative bass instrument as Ramfis, the high priest, and Scott Hendricks bright baritone as Amonasro, King of Ethiopia.
Richard Bado, as Chorus Master, deserves voluminous praise for gathering such a gigantic chorus and ensuring that they performed with impressive dexterity and skill. The chorus in AIDA is extremely busy vocally, adding ambient chords to the score throughout many of the scenes. Furthermore, as much of their work requires them to sing softly and quietly, their skill in producing quality and well-blended vocal walls at a pianissimo timbre is superb.
For the ballet moments, Dominic Walsh provides eye-catching and dazzling choreography that is well performed by the dancers.
The work of Zandra Rhodes, Scenic and Costume Designer, brings the whole production together, melding every element into superbly elegant stage images. She employs bright shades in most of her designs, giving the impression of Egypt while adding in layers of decadent opulence. AIDA is truly a grand opera, and she sees to it that every visual detail is as extravagant and filled with spectacle as possible. Even the prop elephant leaves the audience in amazement.
I cannot think of a better way for Houston Grand Opera to kick off their season than with this magnificent production of AIDA. This will certainly be a tough act to follow, and I cannot wait to see how the rest of the season plays out.
AIDA, presented by Houston Grand Opera as a co-production with English National Opera, San Francisco Opera, and Norwegian National Opera, plays the Brown Theater at the Wortham Theater Center, 500 Texas Avenue, Houston, 77002 now through November 9, 2013. It plays in repertory with DIE FLEDERMAUS. Performances of AIDA are Sunday, October 20 and November 3 at 2:00 p.m., Saturday, October 26 and November 9 at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, October 29 at 7:30 p.m., and Friday, November 1 at 7:30 p.m. For more information and tickets, please visit http://www.houstongrandopera.org or call (800) 626-7372.
Photos by Lynn Lane. Courtesy of Houston Grand Opera.