Opera Review: Monumental Voices Lift Aida High at Dallas Opera

Verdi’s Aida has held its place in the hearts of opera goers for the past century and a half with a combination of hummable melodies, show-stopping numbers, and an anachronistic but enduringly appealing story line. Friday, the tragic conflict of personal emotion and national loyalty in ancient Egypt—or rather, a nineteenth-century version of ancient Egypt—provided a memorable opening night for the Dallas Opera’s 2012-13 season, thanks to monumentally grand voices in the three principal roles.

Houston-born, UNT-trained soprano Latonia Moore, a rising star who has already triumphed as Aida at Covent Garden and at the Met, simply astounded with a voice that was equally powerful—and clearly capable of subtle effect—from top to bottom. While sheer magnitude are volume are the most immediately striking aspects of her voice, Moore proved repeatedly throughout the evening that she is capable of producing arresting emotional effect as well.

Tenor Antonello Palombi was equally impressive as Aida’s beloved Radames; although he played the character and the music with grand, muscular gestures, he likewise presented impressively subtle, nuanced moments.

Mezzo-soprano Nadia Krasteva also filled the hall with a solid, resonant voice as Aida’s nemesis Amneris; her dramatic take on the role was slightly more problematic. For much of the evening, she played the Egyptian princess as a simpering, jealous teenager, before becoming almost convulsive as she nears the tragic conclusion. Krasteva is an obviously appealing stage presence and wonderful singer who didn’t quite find the proper balance of subtlety and intensity. Among the other major roles, baritone Lester Lynch offered a grand rendition of the ill-fated Ethiopian King Amonasro.

Michael Yeargan’s sets, designed for the Dallas Opera in 1997, offer a sleek, radiant vision of an ancient Egypt of the mind; stage director Garnett Bruce tended to opt for ceremonial rather than dramatic effect in the grand crowd scenes. Though this might be disappointing for the traditionalist who wants a real march during the Triumphal Scene, the ominous procession of officials during Radames’ trial was chilling. Some of Peter J. Hall’s costumes, likewise from 1997, seem slightly dated and inconsistent with the larger vision of the production.

The chorus, so vital in Aida, was in particularly fine form; the ballet sequence, choreographed by Kenneth von Heidecke, reverted to classical ballet and an old-fashioned aesthetic not at all contradictory to Verdi’s music. Dallas Opera music director Graeme Jenkins conducted with his typical mastery of the momentum and finer points of the Verdi style in a score that is packed with unforgettable episodes.