After the Red Carpet show and the black tie reception of the “First Night” festivities, the sold-out Winspear Opera House in Dallas was dressed to the nines and ready for a lavish evening, and Verdi’s crown jewel more than delivered.
First off, a hearty “Bravi!” to stage director Garnett Bruce and scenic designer Michael Yeargan. Aida is one of those operas that is tough to get right; it’s easy to go overboard, and it’s lacking if you don’t go far enough. Luckily, these two got it just right. From the overall color tones, to the intriguing effects, everything seemed to set the scene perfectly, and was an art on its own. The costumes were well done with the only exception being The King of Egypt, who’s costume was so over-the-top one almost expected the character to be a comedic role. A standing ovation is also in order for choreographer Kenneth von Heidecke. The ballet portions of the Grand Opera provided a concert within a concert, and had many patrons singing the dancers’ praises during intermission.
But now, to the music:
Aida is full of fantastic music; from soaring arias, to raucous, dramatic choruses, it’s got a bit of everything, and the Dallas audience was treated to some absolutely fantastic performances. We can’t begin without starting with the orchestra. Verdi uses the orchestra in so many ways, it’s can be overwhelming. The Dallas Opera musicians performed swimmingly whether they were playing sweeping preludes, grandiose fanfares, ballet music, or isolated solos like oboist Rogene Russell (the oboe is as much of a soloist and star as any of the singers in this opera) — and they were on top of it all.
This wonderful production featured some extremely strong voices. Bass, Orlin Anastassov as Ramfis, the high priest, would have stole the show in lesser casts. His beautiful full round tone was more than able to navigate Verdian waters without getting muddied as some basses tend to do. Baritone Lester Lynch (Ethiopian King Amonasro) was absolutely fantastic — his applause was only surpassed by Aida — and was a fantastic Amonasro. His strong, full, tone projected the inner power of his character, and made for a fierce father figure that not just anyone would want to argue with, or disappoint — as was his angle with Aida.
Tenor Antonello Palombi as Radamès is one of the best tenor voices to hit the DFW Metroplex in awhile. His voice was so big, so dark, and so “Verdian,” that his timbre could almost be confused with a baritone until he belted out that upper register. Luckily, there was one other performer on stage that could compete.
To say Latonia Moore was great in the role of Aida would be an understatement. She owned it. Moore navigated the waters of anguish, heartbreak, joy and despair beautifully. She perfectly toed the line between between control and chaos within both her voice and her acting. While not quite as dark as what some think of when they think of “Verdi sopranos,” Moore had a lush sound that wasn’t strained at any register or dynamic. Moore was the best performer on stage, and brought the character and music to life in such a way that my biggest critique of the evening was that conductor Graeme Jenkins didn’t pause at the end of Moore’s beautifully executed O patria mia aria. I was about ready to jump to my feet when they segued directly into Amonasro’s entrance in the third act (luckily, he’s also really good, or might have actually been upset). And speaking of the third act, having the three strongest voices of the performance in Aida, Amonasro, and Radamès all on stage singing together made for the best moment of the evening, and was the feather in the cap of an absolutely stunning way to kick off a new season at The Dallas Opera.