United States Verdi: Aida, Pittsburgh Opera, Antony Walker (conductor), Benedum Center, 15.10.13 (RP)Co-production with Opéra de Montréal & Utah Opera
Aida: Latonia Moore
Radames: Carl Tanner
Amneris: Elizabeth Bishop
Amonasro: Lester Lynch
Ramfis: Oren Gradus
King: Phillip Gay
High Priestess: Jasmine Muhammad
Messenger: Daniel Curran
Director: Crystal Manich
Set Designs: Claude Girard / Bernard Uzan
Costumes: Claude Girard
Lighting: Cindy Limauro
The Pittsburgh Opera launched its 75th anniversary season with Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida. A grand opera for a grand occasion, it also served to commemorate the birth of the Italian composer 200 years ago.
It was a traditional affair with no great surprises in staging or costumes. The staging, a co-production with Opéra de Montréal and Utah Opera, was previously seen in Pittsburgh in 2008. There was no concept here, just effective, realistic, monumental sets with Egyptian motifs that looked splendid in the movie palace grandeur of the Benedum Center. The Triumphal Scene was a parade of priests and buff warriors, the latter a result of casting calls that went out to the city’s gyms and fitness studios. And although there were no elephants, the presence of horses, a python, a lively hawk and greyhounds added to the spectacle and were greeted enthusiastically by the audience.
Sports are big in Pittsburgh. To enhance the triumphal spirit, Pittsburgh sports stars of yesteryear were included in the victors’ parade and deemed the “Champion of Champions.” At the October 15th performance, Bob Friend, a former star pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, garnered his fair share of applause.
As important as spectacle is in “Aida,” opera rests and falls on the musical elements. Pittsburgh Opera did not disappoint, assembling a seasoned trio of internationally acclaimed American artists in the principal roles. Latonia Moore embodies Aida, the role in which she triumphed as a last-minute replacement at the Metropolitan Opera in 2012. Her rich, full soprano blazed in “Ritorna Vincitor,” and was equally effective in the softer lyrical passages. If “O patria mia” did not make the impact that it should have, that was due to a lack of coordination between pit and singer during the aria, not Moore’s voice or artistry.
Carl Tanner is the real thing. He possesses a thrilling tenor voice with a ringing top. The B-flats in “Celeste Aida” were sung full voice, but were tapered off effectively. Whether the stand-and-deliver style is his personal preference or the director’s choice, he was a bit stiff. He also had to contend with an unflattering black wig and costumes that did not bring to mind a heroic warrior. Neither diminished his fine performance, but the visual aspect is important.
The love triangle was completed with the beautifully sung Amneris of Elizabeth Bishop, who gave a richly nuanced portrayal. In the opening scene, Amneris was young, playful and in love. Spurned by Radames, she becomes vengeful and petty, but the vulnerability was always below the surface.
Acting honors, however, went to Lester Lynch as Amonasro, and his singing was of the same caliber. Few Aida’s can boast such a perfectly matched father-daughter team as this one. Supporting roles were well cast, with the only exception being Phillip Gay as the King. Gay, a first-year Pittsburgh Opera Resident Artist, possesses a fine bass voice, but at this stage of his career it is as slender as his physique, both of which were in stark contrast to those of the other cast members.
The Pittsburgh Opera Chorus deserves special mention, especially the men in the first act. Antony Walker, Pittsburgh Opera’s Music Director, and the forces in the pit performed well.
Christopher Hahn, General Director, welcomed the audience and in the course of his remarks mentioned the need for financial support to ensure the company’s future. As important as money is, building an audience is also crucial. There were a lot of young people in the Benedum for this performance which bodes well. Pittsburgh Opera must be doing something right.