The orchestra is on the stage.
The current production of Aida at the San Diego Opera is the fourth I’ve been in with the company. It is the best principal cast I’ve experienced. It is, to my great pleasure, the singer’s paradise that I hoped it would be.
I was hoping for a singer’s paradise because of the semi-staged quality of the production. The orchestra is on the stage. The chorus is on stage for the first two acts but is clothed in concert blacks and placed on risers while using musical scores. The principal artists are in costume and enter and exit appropriately with the story.
The chorus sings offstage for Acts III and IV, but that’s how Verdi wrote it save for about three minutes when the priests enter after passing judgement on Radames, the lead tenor. If we stop to think about it, Act III is presented pretty much the same way it would be in a fully-staged version. The act is a series of arias, duets, and a brief ensemble moment for the principal roles at the conclusion.
Act III, even in fully-staged version with magnificent set pieces, is about singers standing on stage and delivering some of the greatest vocal music ever written. Stand and deliver they do in the San Diego Opera version.
I believe this is the second time Michelle Bradley has performed the role of Aida, the first coming in Nancy, France. I believe it is a matter of time before we hear that Ms. Bradley is performing the role at The Met.
Yes, she’s that good. I keep thinking that this is the second time she’s done the role, and what will she sound like the 20th time?
Her voice has both power and beauty and several times, throughout her performance, she accesses both qualities within the same phrase by means of a stunningly developed mesa di voce. Her lower notes, the chest register, are strong and full, but I believe they will become even more impressive as she develops the role. An Aida with a commanding chest register along with a powerful top and a messa di voce? That’s a voice which may as well be cast in pure Egyptian gold.
Carl Tanner is the tenor of great virtue. He sings with such authority through the middle of his voice that I am often concerned the top is going to be a conflagration, but his top notes are always beautiful, full, and round. I base my unfounded concerns on tenors of lower caliber which sound like commanding figures only to have their top notes obscured by a spray of wobble and blood.. Mr. Tanner’s top notes come out like perfectly cut diamonds full of light which awe and inspire an audience.
Now we come to my girl Amneris, my favorite. Sorry. As much as I like Aida and Radames’s music, Amneris’s is my favorite and in the role we Olesya Petrova. When I read that she was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, I knew I was in for something special. Her Amneris calls to mind another great “ova,” Elena Obraztsova, also born in St. Petersburg.
Petrova sings with the role of Amneris with a voice which is rooted in the great Russian vocal tradition—dark and beautiful. Yet, she sings her Act I scene, with the women’s chorus, with a lightness of tone which awakens us to the softer side of the character.
That, my friends, is what is known as vocal acting and it is the great accomplishment of the entire cast in this Aida.