The Seattle Opera’s production of Verdi’s “Aida” can only be described as opera flexing its muscles. Yes, Aida is unabashed in the spectacle that it offers, but it also knows when to dim the lights, streamline the sets, and focus all its energy on moments of human intimacy.
All I knew going in was that “Aida” is an Italian opera that involves a love triangle. Whether it was a tragedy, comedy, or something in between, I had no idea; yet I ended up being extremely thankful for my initial ignorance. I frequently found myself breathless anticipating plot twists and scrutinizing character motives. In fact, I think my ability to fully appreciate the production would have been hampered had I known exactly what I was in for.
My point here is that although opera has been plagued by “stuffy” monikers in the past, it really shouldn’t be intimidating. These are stories like any other, intended to be accessible and impactful; they just happen to involve a good deal of singing in foreign languages. Thankfully, there are subtitles, as well as $20 student rush tickets.
“Aida” has three major roles – Radames, Amneris, and Aida herself – who are the occupants of the aforementioned love triangle. There are two casts of singers who take turns performing as the leads during the shows run. I saw the cast that performed May 6, 9, 12, and 18.
David Pomeroy, a Canadian tenor, made his Seattle Opera debut as Radames. His voice had an earnest resplendent quality that actually made my eyes widen as he began his opening aria. It practically shone in the air as he captured the fervor of passionate Radames.
Elena Gabouri is a mezzo-soprano from France who also made her Seattle Opera debut. She plays Amneris, a role she has undertaken multiple times before. At this point, she seems to be a master at evoking the complexity of her character. Though her singing was slightly less noteworthy than that of her co-stars, she is nonetheless an extraordinary powerful vocalist and a capable actress who assuredly captured the many shades of Amneris.
Finally, Alexandra LoBianco, an American soprano, plays the eponymous heroine Aida. To call her voice and her vocal technique stunning would be an understatement. At one point in the first act, she holds her own against an entire male chorus. Early in the second act, in which she sung a forlorn aria about a lost homeland, there were moments when her voice can only be described as crystalline. From depth and purity in her low notes to soaring and shimmering high ones, LoBianco is wildly successful in carrying the title role.
Frankly, the production team deserves more credit than I am capable of giving. The stage blazes in bold primary colors – red, yellow, blue – that highlight the intensity of the action and the ferocity of the characters’ passions. I was continually surprised by the versatility of the set pieces and how well they accented and heightened drama. Adding to the spectacle were dancers, ample stage fog, and, just for good measure, a deluge of gold confetti to close act one.
There are a handful of points to critique, small though they may be. Some of the costumes, namely those of Aida and her people, seemed out of place and dull in comparison to those of other characters. This is appropriate to some extent, since they are outsiders in the storyline, but this particular set of costumes felt as if it was struggling against the look of the larger production. Additionally, there were a few awkward scene shifts in the second act wherein the curtain came down and the audience slowly began to murmur. However, considering the emotional intensity of the second act, this point can almost be excused; the transitional time ended up functioning as a breather from the relentlessly increasing tension.
The ability to walk the line between “epic” and “intimate,” or to put it more crudely, the “big stuff” and the “small stuff,” and to evoke each in their turn so that they balance and complement the other is, in my opinion, frequently a mark of superior artistry. As the “Lord of the Rings” movies did when they translated Tolkien’s magnum opus to the screen, the Seattle Opera deftly manipulates that dichotomy to bring Verdi’s “Aida” to life in an unapologetically spectacular fashion.
Reach writer Marissa Gaston at firstname.lastname@example.org