Sunday, Apr 22, 2018
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Toledo Opera shows balance with new ‘Aida’

The Toledo Opera’s new production of Aida, which opened last night in the Valentine Theatre, delivers an impressive balance of spectacle and intimacy, with a Pharaoh’s treasury of powerful singing, abundant and convincing drama, and plenty of color and action.

The Valentine stage literally bursts with life from the opening scene to the final tragic denouement.

Gazing beneficently over nearly all the action is Roberto Oswald’s monumental Sphinx head, a silent yet imposing presence that suggests the timeless elements in this enduring tale.

Aida was a huge, ambitious project to undertake at such a crucial time in the local company’s history. Yet survivors of all stripes understand that taking on a risky endeavor is sometimes necessary to prove healing has occurred.

That this production is a success should encourage both presenters and supporters of Toledo’s enterprising company to continue taking risks — although not necessarily at this scale.

Credit goes first, of course, to Giuseppe Verdi, whose haunting music carries the full spectrum of emotions to underscore Antonio Ghislanzoni’s complex libretto. 

To convey the power of Aida in this right-sized production — no elephants or horses on stage, a modest chorus, a talented handful of dancers — masterminds James Meena and Brian Deedrick focused on the essentials.

They assembled a wonderfully attuned cast of international stars — Verdi specialists, in fact — who meshed seamlessly with fine local talent. Kevin Bylsma prepared the chorus for its demanding part.

And Deedrick brought in New York choreographer Eric Sean Fogel for some of the freshest dancing seen anywhere in this city in some time — including a little twerking.

Michael Baumgarten’s creative lighting effects and splendiferous costumes by Annibal Lapiz accentuate the shifting moods and distance between the conquering Egyptians and their vanquished Ethiopian enemies.

As Radames, Antonello Palombi employs his classic Italian tenor (round, warm, yet deliciously edgy) to fully realize Verdi’s color and dynamic spectrum. His character is a believable mix of brave warrior and vulnerable lover.

Likewise, as Amneris, the imperious princess, Irina Mishura delivers a powerful performance, her silken, darkly-hued mezzo tracing emotion from hope and love to vengeance. She is a standout in a very fine cast.

But for power and range, none can touch American bass Mark Rucker, playing Amonasro, the Ethiopian king. He reaches over the footlights, superb as actor and vocal magician, to convey anger, tender love, and even trepidation.

A relative newcomer to the title role, Canadian-born mezzo Othalie Graham brings a warm and sensuous voice to the role, portraying everything from humble slave to conniving daughter to tender lover.

In Chinese bass Sun Yun (Ramfis) is one proud yet wise high priest. Equally impressive is Sean Cooper, Pharoah, whose rich and well-tempered bass-baritone conveys royal conviction.

She doesn’t show up until curtain calls but the Toledo Opera Association’s resident utility soprano, Jennifer Cresswell, sings the offstage role of priestess with clarity and conviction. And, in his opera association debut, Austin Heath as Messenger kicks off the battle action.

This production truly has legs, for it will next travel to Charlotte next week, there to bring Aida and her cohorts alive once more for Opera Carolina audiences. Aida will repeat at 2 p.m. Sunday in the Valentine Theatre. For tickets, call 419-255-7464 or

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