Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Aida and the Amazing Technicolor Opera Production

September 20, 2010

Marcello Giordani and Micaela Carosi Photo: Corey Weaver/SFO 2010

It’s hard to take San Francisco Opera’s current production of Verdi’s Aida ,which opened their season earlier this month, seriously. I saw it on Sunday and couldn’t believe that it had no more artistic aspirations than say Ernest Goes to Camp. It borders on kitsch, but doesn’t really have the humor to pull it off. Garish would be the other word that comes to mind, but that’s more of a compliment than I would intend. The six-year-old behind me seemed to enjoy it, as did many in the Sunday matinee, retiree-populated crowd. So maybe the best way to think of this show is as a tale of war, murder, and suicide that speaks to the six-year-old in all of us.

Dolora Zajick, Marcello Giordani and Christian Van Horn Photo: Corey Weaver/SFO 2010

And in another way, this Aida directed by Jo Davies with neon-colored production design from Zandra Rhodes, made me question my career choice. One might surmise from this that all it takes to direct an opera is to dress up some singers, line them up at the foot of the stage, and let them have at it. Or to put it another way, this Aida makes doing nothing look easy. Now reportedly the idea behind the production is to refocus attention on the central love triangle. Fine, a great idea even. But I for one would not have taken that away from this particular performance. The interaction between principals is more often than not stiff and just as likely to happen with either involved party standing at the opposite end of the stage facing the audience. The only moment of life in the entire dead three hours was a turquoise, life-sized elephant puppet Radames arrives on in Act II that elicited applause from the audience. If that is your kind of thing, then this Technicolor travesty may be the opera you’re looking for. And given that San Francisco Opera is putting on a mammoth 12 performances, you should have plenty of chance to go.

On the bright side, I’ve heard far worse sounding Aidas. Conductor Nicola Luisotti avoids the orchestra descending into self-parody and things moved along nicely. Dolora Zajick was the vocal star of the show delivering her patented Amneris. Given that she hadn’t been burdened with acting direction, it gave her wide berth to work her vocal magic au naturel. Marcello Girordani sang Radames with good energy and some urgency. He was stable enough throughout his range and appeared heroic. Micaela Carosi was the Aida and had by far lost the costume lottery for the evening – mid-riff, real or implied, is a delicate thing on the opera stage. She was strong and mostly in sync with the orchestra, but I really didn’t find her all that convincing. Then there are the bare-chested supernumeraries in the giant gold lamé hoop skirts. I admired the over-the-top look, but it was mind-boggling how it was tied to a show so short on excitement or originality. Aida keeps going and going with performances right through the start of December.



A friend's daughter who saw the opening night performance thought the whole thing was "fantabulous". She is ten-years old, btw.
I am so glad to hear you say this, because I've been *trying* to convince myself to make the trip up North for an Aida weekend... but this production just strikes me as completely misguided, not only in terms of the garish design, but also the awkwardly intimate stage direction.

Little known fact: This production was actually conceived by a 14-y/o Baz Luhrmann in his basement rec-room.
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