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Subject: An 'Aida' of Shades at SF Opera
From: janosG <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:janosG <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sat, 11 Sep 2010 00:42:42 -0700

text/plain (37 lines)

Mortals, ordinary and otherwise, seemed to enjoy thoroughly tonight's opening of the San Francisco Opera's 88th season with a new Zandra Rhodes production of Verdi's "Aida."

But, if it was Apollo, rather than Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in the center box, that response might have been different. The cruelly exacting god of music demands not only excellence but consistent, sustained quality thereof. And there was the rub: an notably uneven night at the opera.

Excellence was obvious when Dolora Zajick's Amneris gripped the audience, her voice once again filling the War Memorial in a thrilling fashion. There was excitement when Marco Vratogna stormed and menaced as Amonasro. And, even in the Woolworth-class "colorful" production there was a genuine high point with the appearance of the giant butterfly-elephant in a Triumphal March.

You don't need Apollo's high and mighty viewpoint to point out inconsistency and an obvious misstep right there, before and after the success of the blue-cloth elephant. Rhodes and director Jo Davies placed two thrones on either side of the prompter's box at the edge of the stage, and positioned supers around, all the better to block the view of much of the march.

No similar elementary errors befell on the music, but the Zajick-Vratogna standard was met only occasionally. Marcello Giordani's Radames started with moments of audible effort, and his stage presence was less than heroic. By the second act (of this thrifty production with only one intermission), the voice opened up, especially after the duet with Zajick.

Micaela Carosi's Aida is a mostly respectable vocal performance, but one difficult to like. A big voice, but little music, with superfluous, pro-forma "acting," it was - except for some genuinely pretty pianissimo passages - musically and dramatically wooden.

Hao Jiang Tian's Ramfis and Christian Van Horn's King of Egypt were on the plus side. One more nod to Zandra's Fashions: the floor-length gold-lamé crinoline skirts for men were terrific, turning from gold to silver to generically metallic, depending on the lighting. Ian Robertson's fashion-model chorus sang well, made to move in an occasionally lame (not lamé) direction.

Lawrence Pech's revival choreography saved the audience from the usual silly ballets, presenting only one genuine dance number with Chiharu Shibata and four adorable youngsters in a super-fast Punjabi Bhangra - isn't Egypt close to India?

Finally, the surprise of the evening: with the Opera Orchestra in fine fettle, Nicola Luisotti was fully expected to bring down the house with this one of the most Italian and excitingly rhythmic of all operas. It didn't happen.

With the better singers front and center, things went well. When Carosi or Giordani sang, Luisotti held back, slowed down the orchestra, lost the zip that's his hallmark and glory. Of all the things to turn out "uneven," Luisotti's direction was that last one would have suspected.

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