Aida February 14, 2009
By Glen Creason
The Teatro Lirico D’Europa returned to the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts over the weekend bringing more grand opera in the form of Giuseppe Verdi’s great Aida which filled the stage with action and angst along with three glorious hours of singing. This one hundred and thirty-eight year old masterpiece is oft performed and for good reason. The story, as is the case in many plots in the form is filled with intrigue, double-dealing and love destroyed by perfidy. Only daytime television can compete with Italian opera for romantic misery but it does make for some really wonderful singing. The Sofia Symphony Orchestra and chorus (who were onstage in costume) gave excellent support to the half dozen principal singers and the big scale set was certainly good enough for the hall. This is not an eye candy production but the singing was decidedly first-rate from the key roles of Radames, the hero then villain to his object of adoration Aida. There is an awful lot to see on the stage with the different levels of sets, the large chorus singing parts like a character in the plot and dancers who perform ballet in several sequences. We are talking about pyramids and Sphinxes here.
The Readers Digest plot summary goes something like Aida is the Ethiopian slave of Amneris, the Egyptian princess and daughter of the King of Egypt. It is a time of war between Ethiopia and Egypt where Radames, the Captain of the guards has just vanquished Amonasro, the King of the Ethiopians and secretly the father of Aida. There are also priests and priestesses and the romantic subplot of Radames deep love for Aida which is waylaid by the “gift” he receives from the King in the form of his daughter’s hand, the jealous and spiteful Amneris who like Aida loves Radames. After Amonastro gets the crestfallen Aida to coax war strategy secrets from Radames he is accused of being a traitor and condemned to death by burial when alive and everybody ends up miserable including both women and especially the entombed Radames. However, there is that sort of opera silver lining as Aida hides in the sepulcher and joins Radames in death joined eternally where they could not have done so in life. Typically, the final aria, the most beautiful “La fatal pietra sovra me si chiuse." ("The fatal stone now closes over me.") and Radames: “Morir! Si pura e bella” bring this sad story to an end. Despite the broad stroke melodrama it just breaks your heart to hear it sung.
This production did have strong performances from the critical roles: Olga Chernisheva as Aida was delicate and beautiful but with soprano voice enough to sing this demanding role over the length of large opera. Tenor Gabriel Gonzalez returned from his earlier triumph at Cerritos, singing Radames extremely taxing character while gaining admiration for the music and sympathy for his acting of the complex soldier. Lastly, Tatiana Kaminskaya wrapped herself around the double-edged persona of Amneris making her evil in her jealousy and heartbreaking in her remorse. The two ladies singing on “Fu la sorte dell' armi a' tuoi funesta” when Amneris gets Aida to reveal her love for Radames was exceptionally moving and Radames profession of love “Pur ti riveggo, mio dolce Aida” was strong enough to have some in the audience reaching for handkerchiefs. Aida is a lot of opera, a large scale show with an exhausting amount of dialogue but in the end it is very much worth staying to hear the telling of this tragic story.