August 3, 2008

The Pageantry of "Aida" at Seattle Opera


It's the most extravagant of all operas. In fact, the spectacle of Aida (that triumphal march! those elephants!) often outshines the music and singing. Not this time. Seattle Opera's current production of Verdi's masterpiece is a finely integrated staging and immensely satisfying night of theater.

All three leads sing with impressive musical power. Soprano Lisa Daltirus, who won plaudits here as Tosca earlier this year, returns as the doomed Aida. Tenor Antonello Palombi, who who dazzled Seattle audiences as the tragic clown in Pagliacci, is an impressive Radamès. Seattle's favorite resident mezzo, Stephanie Blythe, makes Amneris into a figure of Wagnerian stature.

08%20Aida%20rl%20364-1.jpgIn Verdi's time, Egypt was a metaphor for the newly unified Italian state, posing questions of private passion and political loyalty. The opera's characters can still be seen as stand-ins for contemporary politicians: the clueless warrior Radamès, the bitchy "entitled" princess Amneris, the idealistic slavegirl Aida. The questions, never fully answered: should personal loyalty (to friends, to family) outrank public duty (patriotism, service to country). Grand opera finds artificial ways of framing these fundamental questions (In Aida, the captured slave is in a relationship with the Egyptian military leader; in Romeo and Juliet, the lovers are from rival clans; in Norma, the high priestess even has children by her country's arch-enemy).

The director's job is to maintain the intimacy of the love triangle against the backdrop of pomp and circumstance, a task skillfully handled by Robin Guarino. But what about those elephants? In Portland, where the outdoor theater adjoins the zoo, they've brought in an elephant or two over the years. Not at McCaw; not even a pony. Instead, this production uses an ornately decorated set, dozens of choristers, a phalanx of supernumeraries and a troupe of dancers to portray the pageantry of the triumphal procession.

The opera's quiet moments (notably Aida's plaintive "O Patria Mia") are all the more intense for being framed by the grandiose set. In fact, Guarino has called Aida "a chamber opera at heart" in a couple of interviews. Still, that's like calling an F18 Hornet an overgrown Piper Cub; this Aida is a Blue Angels extravaganza through and through, even without the elephants.

Seattle Opera presents Aida, McCaw Hall, through Aug 23rd. For tickets, call 206-389-7676 or go online.
Seattle Opera photos © by Rosarii Lynch.

Posted by Ronald Holden at August 3, 2008 12:19 PM | TrackBack

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Aida was the very first opera I saw as a youth and still my favorite. Nice coverage, Dr Joe

Posted by: dr joe at August 3, 2008 2:05 PM
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