By Michael H. Margolin
“Julius Caesar” brought brilliant singing to MOT’s first Baroque opera production; “Fidelio’s” musicianship and the great Christine Goerke upped the ante. Last night the final hand was dealt, and it was a winner.
In a fine season, “Aida” triumphed with moments of greatness, the debuts of three gorgeous voices, sets of taste and grandeur, and the fine playing of the MOT orchestra under the baton of Steven Mercurio.
Impeccable in every way, including Bliss Hebert’s superior direction and a wonderful lighting design by Thomas Hase, Allen Charles Klein’s production design – a departure in some ways from the traditional – was soundly applauded each time the curtain rose.
The major break with performance tradition was in the Triumphal scene; when the curtain rose, dozens of gold and white costumed chorus members were already in place, a monumental design. I did not miss the endless parade of line after line of chorus and extras onto the stage. Instead a few gold-clad soldiers carried on parts of the massive set, then the triumphant Radames, focusing the action more on the intimate triangle of Aida, the slave in Egypt but born of a king in Ethiopia, the Egyptian princess Amneris and the apex of the love triangle, Radames. It was less spectacle but heightened drama and a stage picture that possessed the grandeur of a Mt. Rushmore.
Speaking of the three involved in the political as well as love triangle, Latonia Moore sang Aida with a huge, affecting voice. She is petite but dominates the stage, her beautiful soprano sailing above the orchestra. General director David DiChiera has a way of casting young talent on the way up, and Moore surely will hit the heights.
As Amneris, Anita Rachvelishvili, a Georgian, brought a stunning mezzo to the role. She sang from deep within, passionately, and she, too, sent the notes flying over the orchestra. The mutual love interest was the Radames of Riccardo Massi, whose first act aria “Celeste Aida” was competent (to be fair he must sing the aria after a few minutes on stage so the voice may not yet be warmed up) but did not prepare me for the quality of his dramatic singing – though the voice has fine lyric qualities – and his essential handsomeness and height make him a potential star leading man.
In supporting roles, the splendid Gordon Hawkins as Amanasro produced a vivid characterization, his hallmark, though his usually plangent voice sounded a trifle tired. Peter Volpe was a fine Ramfis, as was Andrew Gray as the King of Egypt. The High Priestess was regally sung by Angela Theis (a native Detroiter and featured in the above-mentioned “Fidelio”). Yongmin Kim, recent baritone turned tenor, gave gravitas and good vocalizing to the role of the Messenger.
Child dancers in the first scene of Act II – Aniya Anderson, Jazmine James, Trinity Sanders and Sophia Yee – were exuberant in the dance and tumbling created by choreographer Rosa Mercedes.
Mercedes also created muscular choreography for the Michigan-based dancers of the Eisenhower Dance Company, a relief from the often sappy, faux-Egyptian posturing that too often takes place in “Aida.”
Maestro Mercurio gives support to the singers and got wonderful dynamics from the MOT orchestra; it is always good to have him back.
And it is good to have “Aida” back after an absence of six years; not only did it cap a great season, but raised the bar for next season and, as reported by DiChiera in his usual pre-performance remarks, the celebration of Verdi and Wagner’s births 200 years ago continues next season. It can only bring even greater music and singing from “the Flying Dutchman” and “La Traviata.”
Michigan Opera Theatre at Detroit Opera House, 1526 Broadway St., Detroit. 7:30 p.m. May 15, 17-18 and 2:30 p.m. May 19. 3 hours, 45 minutes. $25-115. 313-237-SING. http://www.michiganopera.org