The Dallas Opera's Aida at the Winspear: Good on Paper, Bad in Bed

Categories: Music Notes

Opening night at the opera should be glamorous and opulent. The genre, defined by excess, demands an elaborate celebration. Hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless hours are required to put on a fully staged opera with ornate sets, costumes for a huge cast, highly skilled actor/singers, and a full orchestra in the pit. When done well, the spectacle of an opera is worth the hoopla.

On Friday night, a bejeweled, feathered, and furred crowd marched down the red carpet past photographers and into the Winspear opera house for the Dallas Opera's opening night production of Giuseppe Verdi's Aida and accompanying gala festivities. But the production couldn't keep up with the pomp.

Jamie Laughlin
Verdi's Aida is a dramatic 19th-century story of love and war set in ancient Egypt. Aida, a princess from Ethiopia, has been captured by Egyptians and is serving as handmaiden for the Pharaoh's daughter, Amneris. But the object of Amneris' affection, an army commander named Radames, is also Aida's secret lover.

To be sure, falling in love with a man who is actively seeking to conquer your homeland and kill your family and is also betrothed to your captor is an inconvenient development. But for Verdi, this intensely dramatic love triangle is perfect fodder for musical and dramatic indulgence.

Since its premier in Cairo in 1871, productions of Aida all over the world have been defined by a bigger-is-better mentality. The Metropolitan Opera in New York famously brings in live elephants for its lavish production. There are no live animals in The Dallas Opera's version; the set, which does include automated elements, is helped greatly by lighting designer Gary Marder's beautiful effects. Visually, Peter J. Hall's stunningly elaborate costumes are the most appealing element on stage. On my way out for intermission, one tuxedoed guest lamented the lack of spectacle: "Couldn't we at least have some camels?"

Ultimately it's the musical performance that makes or breaks an opera. Latonia Moore has received a lot of buzz leading up to her performance in this opera as Aida. Earlier this year, she made her Metropolitan Opera debut in the role, filling in for an ailing soprano. Compared to others on stage, her vocal performance stood out. Her voice has great strength and range, an impressive instrument to witness in a live performance. Throughout the opera, over a sometimes slightly over-bearing (but gorgeously shaped) orchestral performance, she capably maneuvered the demands of the repertoire.

But while technically the singers were "on" across the board, there was a general lack of tangible emotion from the cast on Friday night. Nadia Krasteva's version of Amneris was overly theatric and thoroughly unbelievable. As Radames, tenor Antonello Palombi didn't have chemistry with either of the women that nevertheless pined away for the duration of the four-hour opera. In scenes with Latonia Moore, Palombi was quite simply out-sung, and there seemed a lack of passion on both parts.

Despite the fact that this Aida really is a solid production with a strong cast and huge numbers of supernumeraries (there are over 50 extras), the musicality and art required to communicate love, pain, passion, and desire was strangely absent Friday night. This Aida looks good on paper, and perhaps in subsequent performances the cast will smooth out these kinks. But, like any good-on-paper-date, no matter how handsome or accomplished the dinner companion, an evening can quickly become tedious when there's no chemistry.

The Dallas Opera performs Aida on Wednesday, October 31, and on November 3, 9, and 11.

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What about the dance?!  It's AIDA, so I'd like to know something about the dance and dancers (whatever their quality).  Last time the D. O. did this, they collaborated with Dallas Black Dance Theatre, but I don't think they did that this time (or?).  So please, a report if someone will.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

Listen, dear.  You want camels and elephants, go to a circus.  You want chemistry, go to a lab.  The power of Latonia Moore's magnificent voice might have even overshadowed Pavarotti.  Lester Lynch and Palombi put in very solid performances, and, true, Krasteva was heavy on the silent movie histrionics, but she delivered.  I don't know how anyone can find any fault with the orchestra.  But, you have your opinion.


 @ToscasKiss This time the dance was choreographed by Kenneth von Heidecke with 12 dancers from the Chicago Festival Ballet. I felt the choreography was pretty uninspired. And it didn't help that the set's raised floor caused a giant THUD every time a dancer landed, taking away a bit of the mystery and magic of the leap.


 @Myrna.Minkoff-Katz Thanks for your comment. Did you attend Friday or Sunday? I do think that in an art form invented to fuse drama and music we must expect not only great quality singing, but also believable and dynamic acting (i.e. chemistry and palpable emotion between characters). Ms. Moore's voice is an outstanding instrument and I agree that Lynch, Palombi and others on stage gave solid performances (they were "on" vocally, as I stated). But I also felt the acting was off across the board (excepting, at times, Ms. Moore).


I agree with you that the orchestra played stunningly. In this review I mentioned their gorgeous shaping, but I did hear balance issues during the first Act on Friday evening. All of these artistic factors may vary by performance.


But, you have your opinion, too. And so will everyone else who sees Aida. That's what makes participation in the performing arts so interesting. 


 @Myrna.Minkoff-Katz Having opinions helps tremendously when reviewing performances, and Katie's are right on. I was also there on Friday and felt the same way. It was like sitting through a really long date that would later end in a side-hug, but you know -- with a lot more singing.

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