Who would have thought that Elizabeth Taylor and Verdi had something in common? Apparently, both demanded an exorbitant sum to avoid doing a project on Egypt, and both were granted their asking price, thereby leaving us legendary creations — Liz with 1963’s Cleopatra, Verdi with 1871’s Aida.
In a remarkable career spanning six decades in the theater, Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901) composed 28 operas, at least half of which are at the core of today’s repertoire. No wonder he was commissioned to write the four-act opera to commemorate the opening of the Khedivial Opera House by Isma’il Pasha, Khedive of Egypt and granted the whopping 150,000 francs he demanded. But delays due to the Siege of Paris waylaid the plan and they ended up performing Rigoletto instead. Thankfully, Aida was completed and premiered in Cairo in 1871 where it became a roaring success.
Aida is one of the most performed operas in the world, a staple of the genre’s canon. Few have matched its exploration of the conflict between private emotion and patriotic duty, while also supplying an unforgettable score, arias, setting, and libretto. This grandest of the “Grand Operas” is in fact an intimate love story set against the sprawling backdrop of Egypt, and perhaps its greatest achievement is that never once, through the magnificent choruses, complex ensembles, elaborate ballets, and supernumeraries does it lose sight of its three star-crossed protagonists.
“Verdi, in the hands of the incomparable James Conlon as conductor and a stellar cast, continues to remind us why Aida remains the quintessential opera we’ve come to love.”
Soprano, Latonia Moore (Madama Butterfly, Porgy and Bess) as the Ethiopian slave, Aida is breathtaking with not only a voice that conveys power and emotion, but the acting chops to buttress it. She is formidably matched by Tenor, Russell Thomas (Tosca, Titus) as her secret lover and army commander, Radames; and Soprano, Melody Moore (The Broken Jug, Hansel and Gretel) as Amneris, not just her mistress, but a delightfully scheming rival and an Egyptian princess to boot.
Events reach a crisis stage when Radames returns victorious from yet another war with Ethiopia and the Pharaoh “rewards” him with the hand of his daughter in marriage. Radames’s own desire for Aida conflicts with his responsibility towards his people and loyalty to the throne, and things are further complicated when King Amonasro (Baritone, George Gagnidze) — who also happens to be Aida’s father — is captured and brought to Egypt as a prisoner. Inevitably, loyalties will be tested and life altering choices made, as our characters choose between patriotic and romantic love.
Sets by Michael Yeargan and design by RETNA (Marquis Duriel Lewis) feel more Shogun Japan than Egypt’s Old Kingdom; costumes by Anita Yavich more World War I and the Shah’s Iran than the times of Ramses or Cleopatra — thus making our imaginary leap to the setting originally intended by Verdi difficult; but the contemporization does have the advantage of not risking kitsch, and achieves a starkness more relatable to our modern times. The star of the opera, however, remains Verdi, who, in the hands of the incomparable James Conlon as conductor and a stellar cast, continues to remind us why Aida remains the quintessential opera we’ve come to love.
— Victor Riobo
AIDA plays at the Dorothy Chandler through June 12th. Tickets HERE.