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BWW Review: AIDA is a Visual and Auditory Sensation at The Kennedy Center

BWW Review: AIDA is a Visual and Auditory Sensation at The Kennedy Center

Verdi's sumptuous epic AIDA graces the Kennedy Center for the first time in more than 25 years, and it is a knock-out. The three hour visual and auditory spectacle helmed by director Francesca Zambello and conductor Evan Rogister with original sketches and concept design by famed visual artist RETNA and choreography by one of contemporary dance's leading voices Jessica Lang is not to be missed. In her director's note, Francesca Zambello speaks to AIDA's appeal with opera lovers as part of the very "fabric of our beings", but you surely don't have to be a lover of opera to fall in love with this ensemble and creative team.

AIDA is a timeless story of duty to one's country versus encompassing desire set against the foreboding backdrop of war. Aida, a slave to Egyptian princess Amneris, harbors a secret love for the valiant military captain Radamès. Aida conceals the fact that she is the daughter of Amonasro, the King of Ethiopia and sworn enemy of her beloved (and all of Egypt), but cannot conceal her affection from princess Amneris who longs to wed Radamès herself. It's a high-stakes love triangle complicated by the intensity of violent conflict and religious fervor: the story alone is enough to enthrall.

The epic production needs singers with big voices to make an impact, and the voices on display at the Kennedy Center are shining even in tender, quiet moments. TaMara Wilson as the titular character Aida is a remarkable soprano: her top notes are secure and resplendent. Wilson adroitly navigates the depth of Aida's suffering and trauma while allowing for levity and joy in brief moments, and if she seems like a seasoned pro it's because she's performed the role around the world- including at the Metropolitan Opera. Soprano Wilson and tenor YongHoon Lee (Radamès) are perfectly vocally matched: they each have huge, bright voices and secure high B flats. In her spectacular Washington National Opera debut, mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk is controlled and powerful. Soloman Howard as The King of Egypt makes a striking impression and carries off the role with a resonant elegance. The strong ensemble breathes life and energy into the famed (and patently impressive) Triumphal Scene. Choreographer Jessica Lang's compositions are especially enthralling- her assemblage of principal dancers are moving works of art.

So much artistry is on display in WNO's production of AIDA, but I simply can't say enough about the sunning set design by crossover artist RETNA. RETNA is best known for his sweeping murals and paintings on large canvas, as well as commercial projects like the cover of Justin Bieber's Purpose album and collaborations with Nike, Louis Vuitton, and VistaJet. His work is influenced and inspired by Arabic, Egyptian, Hebrew, Old English, and Native American typographies and are simultaneously reflective of his urban Los Angeles roots and diverse cultural heritage. His striking use of hieroglyphics feels representative of the convergence of the ancient and the contemporary, and the production benefits immensely from the bold designs.

The WNO's AIDA is a triumph- one that effortlessly holds moments of true intimacy and finds room for soaring spectacle. If you can't make it to the Kennedy Center, WNO continues its partnership with the Washington Nationals with their Opera in the Outfield presentation of AIDA on Saturday September 23. Gates open at 5 pm for pregame festivities, and free seating is available in the ballpark and in the stands. Rain or shine, this event is a great way for more people to see great opera!

Photo by Scott Suchman.

For tickets to remaining performances of AIDA at the Kennedy Center visit http://www.kennedy-center.org/calendar/event/OSOSA

Performance Timing: Act One - 85 min.; Intermission - 25 min.; Act Two - 70 min.

Music by Giuseppe Verdi / Libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni

In Italian with Projected English Titles

New Co-Production with San Francisco Opera, Seattle Opera, and Minnesota Opera


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