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Opera in review: Calgary.

It was all grandeur, lavishness and opulence as Calgary Opera celebrated the millennium with its new production of Verdi's Aida. The production, a joint venture with Edmonton Opera, and with sets and costumes underwritten by a consortium of U.S. and Canadian companies, exceeded in splendor and spectacle any opera seen on the Jubilee stage in the past quarter century.

Both the Edmonton and Calgary productions shared the same headline cast and production crew. The two runs of the opera also opened back to back, and the cost-savings resulting from co-ordinating rehearsal and transportation costs meant both cities enjoyed four performances rather than the usual three.

The simple but striking set consisted of a giant gold falcon that spreads its immense wings across the centre of a sharply raked stage. The eight-ton bird could rotate in various ways to suggest the outline of the differing locations of the action. However, although it was initially impressive, it was ultimately stark and co-ordinated imperfectly with the costumes, which suggested the magnificence of imperial Turkey or Caesar's Rome more than ancient Egypt. Conceptually, the production occupied a never-never land, with one foot moving in the direction of historical authenticity and the other anchored firmly in the land of modern abstraction.

Stage director Brian Deedrick, who directed last year's excellent Don Giovanni, was again successful in controlling the traffic on stage. The big public scenes were suitably monumental, but there were also moments of genuine intimacy, especially in the final tomb scene.

While the mise-en-scene was generally impressive, the solo singing was decidedly mixed. Making her Calgary debut as Aida, American soprano Marquita Lister was favorably received, her physical presence eminently suitable for a slave girl and her voice equal to the considerable demands of the role. However, although she was vocally well-trained and secure in matters of pitch and technique, she was not especially expressive in emotional terms. This is a role that suits her talents, though, and is sure to become a winner for her with additional experience. The weak link in the production was Radames, sung by American tenor Craig Sirianni, who is credible as an actor but whose modest-sized, tightly produced voice of average timbre showed poorly in the company of the other singers.

The strongest of the principal singers was mezzo-soprano Sharon Graham, who gave dramatic life to the difficult role of Amneris. Splendid in her top register, with good vocal bite when needed, Graham completely inhabited the part, almost turning the opera into the story of an Egyptian princess who loves a man whose heart belongs to her Ethiopian slave girl.

Veteran Calgary baritone Allan Monk (Amonasro) once again demonstrated his considerable talents as a singer and actor. Vocally in fine form, his contribution to the Nile Scene was a marvel of nuanced singing. Bassos Stefan Szkafarowsky (Ramfis) and Taras Kulish (the King) rounded out the main cast, both sonorous and stereotypically male. In the supporting roles of the off-stage priestess and the messenger, Calgarians Susan Lexa-Casola and Tim Morrison both sang with secure pitch, solid tone and good characterization.

The expanded chorus sang with enthusiasm and good choral ensemble. Much of the credit for the well-judged musical pacing must go to conductor Mario Bernardi. Under his expert guidance the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra provided a rich orchestral support that ranged from the most delicate of hues to the grandest of Triumphal Marches.
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Author:DeLong, Kenneth
Publication:Opera Canada
Date:Jun 22, 2000
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