United States Verdi, Aida: Soloists, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Renato Palumbo (conductor), Civic Opera House, Chicago. 28.1.2012 (JLZ)
Aida: Sondra Radvanovsky
Radames: Marcello Giordani
Amneris: Jill Grove
Amonasro: Gordon Hawkins
Ramfis: Raymond Aceto
King of Egypt: Evan Boyer
Messenger: Bernard Holcomb
Conductor: Renato Palumbo
Original Production: Nicolas Joël
Director: Matthew Lata
Set and Costume Designer: Pet Halmen
Lighting Designer: Jason Brown
Chorus Master: Michael Black
Choreographer: Kenneth von Heidecke
Verdi’s Aida remains durable fare for most contemporary opera houses, and this season’s production at Lyric Opera of Chicago has much to offer – both to those familiar with the score and to those encountering it for the first time. Antonio Ghislanzoni based his libretto on a scenario written by French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette, and combines with Verdi’s musical inspiration to create a fantastically imagined historic drama. Lyric’s production reflects this historic setting, with painted flats and scrims serving as a background. And clearly – based on overheard comments – the vivid colors and detailed illustrations captured the attention of the audience.
Yet it is the music that makes Aida attractive. Sondra Radvanovsky portrayed the role of Aida with skill and grace, with a sense of Verdi’s style that was apparent from her opening notes, and continued through the end of the tomb scene in the final act. Aida’s solo scena “O patria mia” in the third act commanded attention for the way in which her phrasing conveyed the text’s implicit passion, and expressed her inner conflicts without equivocation. Radvanovsky brought out details of phrasing and articulation that reinforced her international reputation as an outstanding Verdi interpreter, and the opera was almost worth it for this scene alone.
But her moving performance was not limited to solos. Radvanovsky’s second act duet with Jill Grove as Amneris was exemplary in the way both singers engaged themselves with the music – and also with each other to make the rivalry apparent. Similar intensity occurred in the third-act duet between Aida and her father Amonasro (“Ciel, mio padre”); the scene shows that the same love which puts Aida in conflict with Amneris also challenges Aida’s sense of loyalty to her father and their homeland. Yet it was the ending, the famous tomb scene that was memorable for Radvanovsky’s intensity, especially in the dénouement as her character faces death by burial alive with her lover Radames.
The performance benefited from a musically and dramatically persuasive Amneris by Jill Grove. In addition, Marcello Giordani’s Radames was striking, especially in the final scene with Radvanosky. The concluding duet “O terra, addio” was particularly notable for Grove and Giordani’s unified sound, combining timbral nuance and dramatic sense. Giordani was also impressive with Grove in the previous scene, the duet “Già I sacerdoti adunansi”.
Raymond Aceto performed Ramfis, the priest of Isis, with finesse and aplomb. Likewise, Gordon Hawkins, who was Porgy in Lyric’s recent Porgy and Bess, was a solid, believable Amonasro. Other roles were also well cast, especially Evan Boyer as the king of Egypt, and the ballet was well-conceived, incorporating some of the exoticism implicit in this opera as part of the choreography.
The orchestra was led by Renato Palumbo (who conducted Ernani at Lyric last season), and he elicited a strong, focused sound from the orchestra. As much as the extroverted portions benefited from Palumbo’s precision, his soft passages also resonated fully in the hall, and the rich, engaging sound helped to bring a familiar work to new life.
James L. Zychowicz