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In the Company of a Turquoise Elephant

San Francisco
War Memorial Opera House
10/09/2010 -  & September 16, 19, 24, 29, and October 2*, 10, 2010
Giuseppe Verdi: Aida
Micaela Carosi (Aida), Hao Jiang Tian (Ramfis), Dolora Zajick (Amneris), Marcello Giordani (Radames), Marco Vratogna (Amonasro), Christian Van Horn (The King of Egypt), Leah Crocetto (Priestess), David Lomeli (Messenger)
San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Ian Robertson (chorus director), Nicola Luisotti (conductor)
Jo Davies(director), Zandra Rhodes (production designer), Christopher Maravich (lighting designer), Jonathon Lunn (original choreographer), Lawrence Pech (revival choreographer), Jonathan Rider (fight director), Pampa Dance Company (dancers)

(© Cory Weaver/courtesy of San Francisco Opera)

The San Francisco Opera’s October 2 performance of Aida was obviously a labor of love. Aida is, despite its final scene in a subterranean tomb, one of the most fun operas in the repertory, with its tradition of, at times, excessively extravagant pageantry (the 1871 premier performance in Cairo included a solid gold cornet for Amneris and sterling weapons for Radames).

Librettist Antonio Ghislanzoni created roles in which all characters have a sympathetic appeal. Soprano Micaela Carosi possessed fine vocal texture and nuanced expressiveness to Aida’s mortal conflict between passion and loyalty. She performed a lovely “O, patria mia” brimming with artistry. Tenor Marcello Giordani as Radames supplied enthusiasm to help compensate for the occasional strain with the highest registers. Despite these technical challenges, “Celeste Aida” was an emotionally moving rendition. Dolora Zajick’s mezzo-soprano role as Amneris delivered a polished, mature performance with an amazing beauty of tone. Baritone Marco Vratogna lent solid support to the character of Amonasro, The King of Ethiopia who also happens to be Aida’s father. Baritone Hao Jiang Tian was a suitably dour Ramfis, wielding his priestly power with verve and a persuasive arrogance. The King of Egypt was portrayed by Christian Van Horn, bass-baritone. Some effort was apparent in his performance but it was solid and well-presented.

Maestro Nicola Luisotti elicited the San Francisco Orchestra’s lushest playing, with the San Francisco Chorus in its usual fine form, coaxed along by Ian Robertson. Stage lighting was consistently excellent. Zandra Rhodes’ creativity was daring yet thematically consistent. Dancers are called for in this opera, and they could not resist bravura performances.

The overarching impression which remains in this writer’s mind is the imaginative and grand stage sets, culminating with a turquoise elephant puppet. Aida, by necessity, is an opera which requires such pageantry, but what must be supplied to balance the production are phenomenal vocal artists. Stylistic differences aside, the singers rated below a production in which the orchestra surpassed the stage sets, which then surpassed the singing. San Francisco Opera presented a respectable production, but not one which was marked for greatness.

Claudia K. Nichols



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