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Published: Wednesday, 4/17/2013

'Aida' one of the highlights for the 2013-2014 season of the Toledo Opera

BY SALLY VALLONGO
SPECIAL TO THE BLADE
Othalie Graham as the title role in 'Aida.' Othalie Graham as the title role in 'Aida.'
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For its 56th season in 2013-2014, the Toledo Opera plans to return to its roots, presenting Verdi's grandest of grand operas, Aida, Oct. 4 and 6 in the Valentine Theatre.

"It will be opera in your face," promised executive director Suzanne Rorick, announcing the season at last weekend's Gala concerts in the same historic downtown hall.

Aida tells the tragic tale of forbidden love between the beautiful Ethiopian princess, Aida, and Radames, guard captain of the Egyptians who have enslaved her.

The very first opera production of the nascent Toledo Opera in 1959 was this massive show, produced and directed by the late Lester Freedman, who had spearheaded the start of today's company.

To present such an elaborate show, with its challenging roles and expanded chorus, huge sets, elaborate costumes, and large orchestra, Toledo Opera will partner with Opera Carolina, the company directed by James Meena.

Meena, principal artistic adviser of the TOA, will conduct the Toledo Symphony and cast, which includes an international array of vocal talent.

Returning to stage the show will be Brian Deedrick, of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Deedrick was in town in February to direct Don Giovanni.

Also coming from the Edmonton Opera will be sets and costumes from its 2009 production of the Verdi masterpiece.

In the title role will be Othalie Graham, a Canadian soprano renowned for bringing to life some of the most demanding operatic roles — Aida, Turandot, Tosca, and Brunnhilde among them.

Singing opposite Graham as Radames, her jailer and lover, will be Italian tenor Antonello Palombi. Mezzo-soprano Irina Mishura, a favorite of Metropolitan Opera audiences, will sing the role of Amneris, and American baritone Mark Rucker, another Met regular, will portray Amonasro.

For its 21st annual gala Feb. 14 and 16, the Toledo Opera plans a show titled Ladies in Red, with the return of some of its most exciting divas.

Mezzo Audrey Babcock, who portrayed Carmen and Maddalena in Rigoletto during the 2008-2009 season, will perform. So will Kathryn Lewek, the soprano who portrayed Zerlina in this year's Don Giovanni and soloed with the TSO in its performances of Carmina Burana.

Also on the Gala roster is soprano Sarah Jane McMahon, last seen in Toledo in 2011 as Violetta in Verdi's La traviata. Soprano Amy Yekel, who made a strong impression in the title role of the TOA's 2012 production of Puccini's Turandot also is slated to perform.

The new face among the Ladies in Red will be that of Corrine Winters, soprano, whose career is rapidly gaining momentum in the U.S. and abroad. Assistant director Robert Mirakian will conduct the production.

For its final production, Gounod's Faust, on April 25 and 27, the company will present an updated version created by Bernard Uzan for the Arizona Opera.

Returning to the Valentine stage for his opera debut will be tenor Shawn Mathey, renowned for his interpretations of Mozart operas.

In a recent interview, Mathey revealed an ambition to expand his repertoire, something he said mentors including Meena have urged on him.

"I've sung a lot of Mozart. It's very good for the voice, but you need to begin other options. If you stagnate, the voice can lose its flexibility. I need other composers to stretch and exercise that top register.

"I'm finally getting around to taking advice and concentrating on learning the French romantic repertoire. It's time for me to be broadening my repertoire," he said.

In last weekend's Gala performances, Mathey gave a very promising preview of how he will sound in next spring's production, singing "Salut! demeure chaste et pure," from the Gounod opera, with convincing power and finesse.

Meena will conduct the final production with stage direction by Fenlon Lamb, who last directed La traviata in 2011.

Rorick, who is marking the end of two years as Toledo Opera's financial turn-around whiz, urged early purchase of season tickets during the concerts. "All our operas have sold out," she said. The Valentine holds just more than 900 people, so there are limits to all performance seats. Season subscriptions range from $74-$185 for all three shows. More information call 419- 255-7464 or go to www.toledoopera.org.

Contact Sally Vallongo at: svallongo@theblade.com.



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