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Royal Opera Canada’s Aida a Delightful Experience

By Denise Lai May 3, 2004

Royal Opera Canada
, founded last year, is relatively new to the Toronto music scene, although its former incarnation, Opera Mississauga, has been performing since 1985. Its latest production of Verdi’s Aida, which opened on April 24th, is probably one of the grandest the company has put on in its history. By virtue of Verdi’s sublime music and the elaborate sets, Aida is no ordinary production, and certainly no small feat for any opera company.

One cannot help but make comparisons to the cross town Canadian Opera Company. On two points ROC does win over the COC. First, the venue–the Living Arts Centre in Mississauga is an intimate hall with superior acoustics and spacious seats, not to mention free parking. Second, ROC’s mandate is to present operas using traditional sets, costumes and staging, which is exactly what the COC lacks. ROC also scores on its cast. Rather than using up and coming local Canadian talents, as in the case of many smaller opera productions (e.g. Opera Ontario, Toronto Operetta), the ROC imports seasoned European (mostly Italian) singers who purportedly are veterans in major opera houses Europe-wide. It is nice to hear perfect Italian diction.

Despite all those these advantages, the first Act did not live up to expectations. Latecomers were still fumbling down the aisles long after the music had begun and the flash photography was distracting. The orchestra trudged laboriously through the overture, making several mistakes along the way. The singers lacked in acting skills, often looking stiff and awkward. The leads were not always balanced, with Radames substantially overpowering Amneris.

Thankfully, things rapidly improved with Act Two. The splendid sets and costumes imported from L’Opera de Montreal were feasts for the eyes. The orchestra, conducted by Dwight Bennett, caught on and played with renewed enthusiasm. The cameo appearances of a tiger, elephant, camel and horse-drawn carriage drew gasps of surprised delight and wild applause from the audience, so much so the missed notes of the accompanying trumpets probably went unnoticed. The moving exchanges between Aida and Amonasro and between Aida and Radames in Act Three provided some of the most exciting moments and the best singing of the night. While the singers with the exception of Ernesto Grisales’ Radames, were not at their vocal best in Act One, they were all excellent by the end; I get a strong sense that they were deliberately holding back and saving their voices.

Spanish tenor Ernesto Grisales was the best of the lot with his effortless phrasing and solid high notes, holding a high B flat for nearly 10 seconds without a hint of difficulty. What he lacked in acting, he more than made up for with his rich sound and consistently delightful performance.

Italian Rossella Redoglia in the title role is a respectable soprano by her own right. Her high notes were accurate but there was too much brightness and vibrato. In her low range she was sometimes drowned by the orchestra. As much as she made an effort to portray her character’s sorrow and despair, she remained rather unconvincing.

Mezzo-soprano Stefania Scolastici as Amneris had difficulty projecting in Act One, perhaps due to too much vibrato in her middle range. In subsequent acts, her voice opened up and she sounded especially brilliant in her high range.

The two basses, Alessandro Verducci as Ramfis and Enrico Rinaldo as the King of Egypt both had powerful voices. Marcello Lippi as Amonasro was the best actor of them all; his fine singing was accented with the right measure of emotions.

Aida is one of those operas in which the chorus is such plays an important element. In this production, the chorus seemed disengaged from the main characters, and the parts did not blend well. Furthermore, the amateur dancing did not match the calibre of the production.

Aida runs through May 15th, with five performances at the Living Arts Centre and four at the Toronto Centre for the Arts.

 > Website: Royal Opera Canada



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