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18.10.11

Virginia Opera Ascendant



See my review of the Virginia Opera's production of Aida:

Concert Review: Virginia Opera Performs “Aida” (The Washingtonian, October 17):

available at Amazon
Verdi, Aida, P. Domingo, A. Millo, D. Zajick, S. Milnes, Metropolitan Opera, J. Levine
[DVD]
Aida has some of the most recognizable strains of music composed by Giuseppe Verdi, and yet it remains one of the least staged of his most popular operas (not heard from the Washington National Opera, for example, in almost a decade). Aida is a grand opera, packed with big choral scenes, ballet, and other spectacle -- an Egyptian story made for the Khedivial Opera House in Cairo, with costumes and scenic ideas contributed by an Egyptologist. It is the sort of work that small, regional companies -- like the Virginia Opera, which brought its new production of the work to the GMU Center for the Arts on Friday night -- generally do well to avoid. The Virginia Opera, in fact, has just survived a schism in leadership, with board members, staff, and donors swarming from the hive to follow ousted music director Peter Mark -- but nonetheless, it chose Aida to open its new season. It was a gutsy choice, and one that paid off; the slightly camp yet savvy production is a success, minimalist in set design but meaningfully directed in all its scenic details, and with a solid cast. Combined with a season of three other equally palatable operas, it is a good indication that the Virginia Opera is headed for a bright future.

On the heels of a fine performance as Tosca with the Virginia Opera in 2009, and as Adriana Lecouvreur with the Washington Concert Opera last year, soprano Mary Elizabeth Williams took on the title role. She sounded overall to be in good form, with a few scratches and strains that possibly indicated minor vocal fatigue. Williams’s voice rang out over the big choral numbers, but it was the softer moments where she shone brightest, kneeling to sing the Act I “Numi, pietà,” for example, in a serene pianissimo. In “Patria mia,” set against a plaintive oboe solo, and in the final scene with Radamès, she was equal parts musically expressive and dramatically affecting. Mezzo-soprano Jeniece Golbourne was every bit a match for Williams as Amneris, the Egyptian princess who holds Aida, the Ethiopian princess, as her slave. Golbourne has a photon-strength voice, with a viscous thickness in the chest and occasionally a little shrillness at its apex, giving her Act I duet with Williams the sound of a jealous, competitive edge. [Continue reading]
SEE ALSO:
Anne Midgette, Virginia Opera produces a wonderful ‘Aida’ (Washington Post, October 17)

Ati Metwaly, Egyptian bass-baritone in Virginia Opera's production of Aida (Ahram Online, October 2)

Teresa Annas, Dressing up 'Aida' at the Harrison Opera House (Virginian-Pilot, September 30)

David Nicholson, Virginia Opera season opens with 'Aida' (Daily Press, September 28)

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