Verdi in Houston
Houston Grand Opera
Harley Schlanger reviews the Houston Grand Opera's presentation of Guiseppi Verdi's grand opera AIDA in Houston, Texas, April - May 2007.
A Spectacular Aida
Giuseppe Verdi's conception for the opera Aida was that it would be a spectacular event. From the opening notes of the overture, the audience is drawn into a world which is both far away, and yet intimately familiar. An ancient civilization is brought to life on stage, at a moment of existential crisis.
The conflicting emotions of patriotism and betrayal, love and rejection, family loyalty versus national duty, give Verdi a rich field from which to produce a variety of recognizable human strengths and frailties.
The performance by the Houston Grand Opera (HGO) succeeded, brilliantly, because the company put its faith in Verdi, in his intricate orchestration, his haunting choruses, powerful arias and ensembles, while simultaneously taking a chance, with an original scenic and costume designer who brought new life to Verdi's Egypt.
I must admit that I was prepared to dislike the performance in Houston, after reading advance press hype of the vision of eccentric British fashion designer Zandra Rhodes, who designed the set and the costumes. One review described her work, with its emphasis on bright colors, as punk chic, while a reviewer for the Independent of London wrote, Opera fans may wish to take their sunglasses to the theatre.
However, the real triumph of the HGO production was its musical virtuosity. The orchestra, under the direction of Carlo Rizzi, was excellent, sustaining the transparent balance required by Verdi, in order to heighten the dramatic tension as the story unfolds. The lead singers were also superb, each coming to this production with an impressive resume of international performances in Verdi's operas. In particular, dramatic soprano Zvetelina Vassileva, a one-time student of the great Carlo Bergonzi, was terrific as Aida. Dolora Zajick as Amneris brought the full range of a Verdi mezzo-soprano to her role, making her character's internal conflict over her love for Radames, even as she participated in his destruction, believable. Marco Berti's Radames captured both the heroism of the military leader, as well as the pathos of the tragic ending he endured.
This production, which ran in Houston in April through early May, was a co-production with the English National Opera, the Norwegian National Opera, and the San Francisco Opera. It will be performed later this year in London and Oslo.
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