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'Aida' at Wolf Trap

Scott Hendricks, Marjorie Owens, and Michelle DeYoung in Aida, Wolf Trap Opera, 2015 (photo by Kim Witman)

You give birth to children, and you raise them with such care, keeping them safe and guarding their every step, until they grow up and become their own people. And after all that, can they even be bothered to call or visit once in a while? One can imagine the maternal guilt trip that Wolf Trap Opera could lay on the many singers launched by its young artist program over the years. Every once in a while, one of the kids comes home to visit, as Alan Held did in 2006, but the concert performance of Verdi's Aida on Friday night in the Filene Center, featuring four of the company's distinguished alumni, will hopefully become a tradition. In other words, all you distinguished Wolf Trap Alumni, be good and come home to see your mother once in a while.

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Verdi, Aida, M. Caballé, P. Domingo, New Philharmonia Orchestra, R. Muti
Aida is the grandest of grand operas, produced at the Metropolitan Opera, where it has had immense popularity (second only to La Bohème), in the most extravagant pomp over the years. However, it works just as well in small-scale productions -- like that seen at Glimmerglass in 2012 (with significant reservations) and at Virginia Opera in 2011 -- and when you have a strong cast like this one, it can be devastating even without any sets or costumes. The only problem, as is always the case in Wolf Trap's cavernous outdoor venue, was the amplification. A few seconds of no amplification made it clear that you cannot do without it, but problems with the microphone levels made the situation worse: singers on the left side of the stage were heard much more clearly after intermission than in the first half.

The four lead singers, all graduates of the Wolf Trap apprentice program, have made strong impressions in Washington in recent years. Soprano Marjorie Owens could project over the huge ensembles but also sing with delicate pianissimo at crucial points for the role ("Numi, pietà" and "O patria mia"). In those exquisite moments of Verdi soprano suffering, as the libretto puts it, Owens's pain was indeed sacred ("il suo dolor mi è sacro," as Amneris puts it), something meant for delectation. Tenor Carl Tanner was a brilliant, heroic Radamès, not a singer known necessarily for subtlety (no mincing about with the final B-flat of Celeste Aida, for example), but with enough forza to match Owens step for step. Baritone Scott Hendricks played Amonasro with savage snarl, chewing the non-existent scenery with his over-acting but leaving no doubt as to the character's passion.

Other Articles:

Anne Midgette, Wolf Trap Opera brings back alumni for big-gun ‘Aida’ (Washington Post, July 27)

Emily Cary, ‘Aida’ tenor Carl Tanner returns to D.C., where he started trucking and bounty hunting careers (Washington Times, July 22)
No one, however, matched the intensity of mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung, whose Amneris was fawning, venomous, deceitful, and yet ultimately sympathetic, someone who pays dearly for loving too deeply. When the microphone level was adjusted in the second half, it brought her searing voice into sharp focus, and it was guilty fun watching her exult in Aida's pain. Current members of the young artists program filled out the cast quite nicely, Evan Boyer as Ramfis, Christian Zaremba as the Egyptian king, and Kerriann Otaño as the high priestess (the last two heard to good effect in the company's Marriage of Figaro last month).

Conductor Daniele Callegari led a strong performance at the podium of the National Symphony Orchestra, with lovely divisi strings in the introduction to Act I and strong solos from oboe and clarinet. Four trumpeters came out to the edge of the stage, with long ceremonial trumpets, for the famous triumphal march, which was a nice touch. Members of Julian Wachner's Washington Chorus were well prepared for the choral parts of the score, both suave and bombastic. The weather had turned out cool and dry, so it was surprising not to see the lawn seating full of wine-sipping spectators.

The National Symphony Orchestra and Wolf Trap Opera will be back for one more performance this summer, a staging of Puccini's Madama Butterfly (August 7), in the Filene Center.

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