Review: Fall in love with Verdi’s ‘Aida’ |

Review: Fall in love with Verdi’s ‘Aida’

A scene from Verdi’s "Aida."
Marty Sohl |

This Saturday at Grass Valley’s Del Oro Theatre, the war horse wagon keeps rolling on as Sierra Theaters presents Giuseppe Verdi’s “Aida” as the latest offering of The Met Opera Live in HD.

Some people just can’t keep from falling in love with the wrong person, even though they know the consequences may be grim indeed: Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, Abelard and Heloise, Hester and Dimmesdale, Bill and Monica (well, sort of); and case in point, Aida and Radames. Verdi’s masterpiece is the apotheosis of grand opera. It has everything and then some: romance, pageantry, pyramids, betrayal, entombment for the protagonists. Manly Egyptian general Radames loves Ethiopian princess Aida, daughter of the enemy, and, worse luck, slave to Radames’ betrothed, Amneris, the jealous type. A recipe for disaster, surely, and one can easily see where this is going. Yet it is Verdi’s command of the orchestral and vocal forces that make “Aida” terrific theatre with an endless progression of melodic inventiveness and dramatic tension.

“Celeste Aida,” Radames’ declaration of love in Act 1, stands as one of the great tenor showpieces. There is a gorgeous misterioso invocation of the divine Phtha followed by the obligatory temple dance. Radames becomes leader of the Egyptian army as it prepares to strike at the Ethiopians. Their victorious return is feted with a grand march. Those of us of a certain age are more familiar with operatic melody than perhaps we recognize. “Fantasia,” “Looney Tunes” and “Mighty Mouse” firmly embedded certain themes in the Boomer brain: “The William Tell Overture,” “Here Comes the Bride” from “Lohengrin,” the “Anvil Chorus” from “Il Trovatore,” and the dancing elephants from Ponchielli’s “La Gioconda” to name a few. The “Triumphal March” from Aida joins this list, instantly recognizable and a stage director’s opportunity to create the spectacle of spectacles. They used to bring hundreds of captive Ethiopian slaves, live elephants and tame cheetahs onto the stage for this scene!

Premiering in Cairo in 1871, “Aida” has held the stage ever since. This season’s Met production features Marcello Giordani as Radames, Stephanie Blythe as Amneris and Violetta Urmana as the eponymous heroine. It should be, it will be, grand. Do not, under any circumstances, confuse this work with the Elton John and Tim Rice musical of the same name. Shudder.

John Deaderick is a local theatre instructor, director, actor, and the author of Make Sweet the Minds of Men: Early Opera and Tragic Catharsis, available at

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