Review: Lyric Opera’s ‘Aida’ a tragic love story
By Betty Mohr Opera Reviewemail@example.com March 7, 2012 2:58PM
The first cast of Lyric Opera of Chicago's production of "Aida" included Marcello Giordani. | Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago photo
◆ Through March 25
◆ Civic Opera House,
20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago
◆ Tickets: $34-$224
◆ (312) 332-2244; lyricopera.org
◆ This show is presented by Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Updated: April 10, 2012 9:52AM
“Aida” has a slow start, but the tragic opera in the sands of Egypt whips up high notes and storms into a triumphant finish in Lyric Opera of Chicago’s revival.
The grand Giuseppe Verdi classic is a difficult opera to perform for modern audiences.
It’s Egyptian backdrop, costumes and story must have seemed exotic to opera patrons of the late 19th century when the opera first debuted in 1871.
With its stiff staging and unrealistic hero and heroine, though, “Aida” comes across a bit overblown and gives the opera a somewhat dated feeling.
So what is the reason for the opera’s long-lived enthusiasm and its consistent popularity with opera aficionados?
The answer is obvious: It’s Verdi’s stunning, glorious music.
The trick to making the opera work is in picking the right ensemble of singers with vocal prowess and talent for dramatic acting.
Although golden vocalization is of prime importance so, too, is the ability to act especially in conveying the life-and-death struggle of two lovers.
The tragic love story of the opera in which an Egyptian general falls in love with his slave is so well-known that years ago Chicago’s Goodman Theatre adapted the story for a theatrical production with music composed by Elton John.
The story centers on an Ethiopian princess, Aida, who is captured by Egyptian soldiers and becomes a slave.
She becomes torn between her love for the Egyptian soldier Radames and her love for her father, the Ethiopian king, Amonasro, and also for her country.
One of the most difficult roles in the opera is that of the tenor who has to deliver some very tough arias.
Fortunately for Lyric’s “Aida” Sicilian tenor Marcello Giordani as Radames from the first cast came through with powerful and emotional force.
He especially stood out with great passion and intimacy in the last scene.
As the slave girl in the first cast of “Aida,” soprano Sondra Radvanovsky gave her best with the softer notes of her duets with Giordani.
But she fell a bit short in fiery moments of acting, with a need to make her character portrayal a bit more intense and dramatic.
Others in the opera’s first cast contributed fine performances.
Mezzo-soprano Jill Grove delivered a gripping portrayal of Amneris, Aida’s jealous rival.
Grove was a terrific villainess, full of blind revenge and dangerous “hell-hath-no-fury-like-a-woman-scorned” desperation.
In addition, baritone Gordon Hawkins came through with a deep, sonorous voice as the defeated and proud Amonasro.
The Lyric Opera chorus under Michael Black’s lead was stellar, and the Italian conductor Renato Palumbo at the head of the orchestra brought out the best in Verdi’s score.
Adding to the larger-than-life spectacle were the ballet scenes choreographed by Kenneth von Heidecke.
Director Matthew Lata has done a fine job of recreating the original staging of this “Aida,” and Pet Halmen’s set design of ancient Egyptian images and towering temple columns offers a grand illusion of antiquity.
Betty Mohr is a local free-lance writer.
Lyric Opera of Chicago has chapters in which opera lovers of all ages get together to enjoy lectures, musical performances, special events, volunteer opportunities and each other’s company.
Information on the Flossmoor Area Chapter is with president Diane Moses at FlossmoorChapter@lyricopera.org.