The grandeur in Vancouver Opera's Aida is in its voices
A Vancouver Opera production. At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Saturday, April 21. Continues until May 3
What the Vancouver Opera’s new production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida may lack in lavish spectacle it more than makes up for in lavish voices. And if one has to choose between the two, the latter is probably worth more than several extra pillars, golden statues, or towering temple portals.
Admittedly, the “Triumphal Scene”, the work’s famous, massive victory parade, is a bit underwhelming in the VO’s season closer, with its sparse and strangely tentative marchers. There are no chariots, no elephants, and—thanks to a city bylaw—no falcons.
The sets, on loan from Edmonton Opera, are monumental but not outsized—but perhaps that befits a production that takes this blockbuster spectacle and tries to tap its emotional realism. This is the Queen E., not Rogers Arena.
The story, after all, is, underneath the pomp and ceremony, an intimate little love triangle. Egyptian commander Radames is in love with the Ethiopian slave Aida. But the Egyptian king’s daughter, Amneris, is also smitten with him, and will go to any means to keep him and her servant apart.
Mezzo-soprano Daveda Karanas’s Amneris is a standout among standouts, perfectly bringing to life director David Gately’s vision of emotionally true characterizations. Just watch her acting in her scene with Aida, singing sweetly and adoringly to coax her slave to confess her love, then turning cold and spiteful. She displays even more complexity later on, as Amneris’s blind jealousy finds shades of remorse; at one point she slumps in her throne in horror at what she’s done. As for her voice? It’s a clear, polished mezzo that enunciates meaning in every word.
As Aida, Russian Mlada Khudoley doesn’t have a typical, round Verdi soprano voice. But she uncovers all the dramatic subtleties of the music with her lustrous high notes and amber lower register. Her strength is her tonal colour, whether she’s using hushed, firm tones to tell her father she is not the Egyptians’ slave, or expressing transcendent pain in the tomb scene.
The men are Verdi powerhouses across the board. Arnold Rawls (Radames) effortlessly hits the high note of Celeste Aida and really reaches his stride in his duet about fleeing with Aida, probably swinging the bells at the Holy Rosary Cathedral with his ringing tenor. Bass Morris Robinson (Ramfis) sets the volume on 11 with his resounding bass. And bass Quinn Kelsey cuts a surprising swath as Amonasro, Aida’s father, with the regal bearing of a king, despite his rags.
The massed voices of the chorus were suitably roof-shaking.
The beefed-up Vancouver Opera Orchestra, under Jonathan Darlington, exceeded even its own high standards. Sure, the sweeping crescendoes and clarion horn work were there, but so were the subtleties—especially in the overture, with its serene, unhurried tempos and the whispering tones of the strings.
But back to those voices. It’s important not to underestimate how hard it is these days to gather this many top-flight Verdi singers for an Aida. On the surface, the inclination might be to describe this production as a sort of post-recession Aida that has trimmed off a bit of visual excess. It’s always nice to have more eye candy, and Aida carries with it expectations of dazzle. But sometimes you don’t see how expensive a production is; you hear it.