Vancouver Opera

In Italian with English surtitles

By Giuseppe Verdi

Libretto: Antonio Ghislanzoni after a scenario by Auguste Mariette Conductor: Joseph Rescigno Stage direction: Brian Deedrick Chorus direction: Leslie Uyeda Costume design: Wolfram Salicki with additional costumes by Christine Reimer Lighting: Stephen Ross Choreography: Jean Léger Stage Manager: Sheila Munn

Dates: 12 - 23 October 2002
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Theatre

Reviewer: Elizabeth Paterson

Vancouver Opera has opened its new season with an ambitious undertaking - Aïda. This opera is not for the faint-hearted but this assay is a triumph.

Susan Neves as Aida sang magnificently. Her very difficult aria "O patria mia" was achieved with beautiful piano passages, especially the famous high C. Her wide and delicately controlled dynamic range made her Aida vulnerable, brave and heart-breaking. Renzo Zulian brought a lovely voice to Radames. His aria 'Celeste Aïda' was extremely moving.

Of the three characters in the love triangle only Amneris has been given any character development. Jean Stilwell took the Pharaoh's daughter from privilege through desire, jealousy, rage and despair --with great art. Her voice in ensemble was sometimes over-powered but never her character.

Mark Rucker as Aida's father Amonasro, Dean Elzinga as Ramfis and Taras Kulish (the Pharoah) all sang well as did newcomers Marie-Josée Lord (High Priestess) and Neil Wright (messenger).

Under the direction of Leslie Uyeda, the Vancouver Opera Chorus turned in a fine performance. The 'Ritorna vincitor' chorus was so rousing one was tempted to join in.

The Vancouver Opera orchestra under Joseph Rescigno matched the brilliant singing of the principals and the enthusiasm of the chorus.

Aida presents problems of contrast in production. Massive Egyptian architecture on the one hand and the constrictions of a tomb on the other, as well as the grand gestures of patriotism and the private passions of love and honour had to be accommodated. Stage director Brian Deedrick carried this off reasonably well, though he would have been helped by better acting from several members of the cast. Good lighting design by Stephen Ross set intimacy off against vast Egyptian skies.

For all its Egyptian setting, the story of Aida is straight out of European romance. This dichotomy was visually expressed by the sets and costumes borrowed from Indianapolis Opera and Utah Opera respectively. The sets reflected the hugeness associated with Egyptian architecture. Hieroglyphs authentically covered every flat surface and the statues of the gods were monumental, solid and grand. In contrast, costumes by Susan Memmott-Allred were less successful There were no nods to the often minimal dress seen in Egyptian paintings, and voluminous gowns made the chorus of priests seem as sinister as an Eisteddfod gathering.

Magnificent singing more than offsets these minor cavils. The Vancouver Opera's production of Aïda must be considered a grand success.

© 2002, Elizabeth Paterson

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