It has been more than a decade since Utah Opera has staged the operatic blockbuster Aida by Giuseppi Verdi, and the energy at the Janet Quinney Lawson Capitol Theatre on opening night was palpable. The production, which runs through March 20, is strong, ambitious, and exciting, but not without a few missteps.
Aida is the story of an Ethiopian princess held captive in Egypt during a time of war. She falls in love with the leader of the Egyptian army, Radamés, but their love is tested by her love for her people and homeland, and by the Pharaoh’s daughter, who is also in love with Radamés. Her love for Radamés and their fate ultimately ends tragically.
The cast was a mix of new and returning artists, with quite a few standouts. Jennifer Check, who had her Utah Opera debut in 2012, returns in the title role as Aida. Her voice was warm and powerful, and her Act 3 was glorious. O patria mia was strong and sensitive, and her duet with Alfred Walker, who plays her father, Amonasro, was spellbinding. Walker, who is also a returning artist to the Utah Opera stage, was one of my favorite members of the cast. He sang the role of the Ethiopian king exceptionally well, and his acting was top-notch. Katharine Goeldner had her Utah Opera debut as Amneris, the daughter of the Pharaoh. Goeldner’s voice has a lovely lower register, and she adeptly showed all the facets of Amneris – her love for Radamés, her regal fire as the daughter of the king, and her sorrow and remorse as the tragic events unfold.
I found Marc Heller, as Radamés, the weakest of the leads. His voice was powerful, and blended well with Check and Goeldner, but his acting and stage presence was awkward, and he often seemed lost in the stage. The cast was rounded out well by Derrick Parker as the high priest Ramfis, and Matthew Trevino as the Pharaoh.
One exciting addition to the Utah Opera productions lately has been the inclusion of more dancers and dance numbers in the show. The choreography by Daniel Charon, Artistic Director of Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, was well performed, and an excellent way to liven up the pomp and circumstance of the scenes in the Egyptian palace.
The set, by Michael Yeargan, was dramatic and versatile, but had some technical challenges opening night. The costumes by Alice Bristow were, for the most part, stellar. The dresses for the women were gorgeous – flowing with great detail and rich, saturated color. The Egyptian king and the priests were also richly attired, but the costume for Radamés often made him blend in to the rest of the army. His costume for the final scene was unflattering and distracting.
The direction, by Garnett Bruce, took good advantage of the whole stage and set, and it was a fun surprise to see the Utah Symphony trumpet section dressed in costume and on stage for the Triumphal March, rather than in the pit. The palace scenes and the Triumphal March managed to get an astounding number of people on the stage without it looking cramped – never an easy feat. But a large number of the scenes had people with their backs directly to the audience – whether guards, chorus members, or the leads – which made me feel cut off from the spectacle.
Even with these small criticisms, Utah Opera’s production of Aida is a beautiful spectacle and one that shouldn’t be missed. To purchase tickets, visit utahopera.org