Entertainment » Theatre


by Rachel  Breitman
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Sep 11, 2017

Washington National Opera opened Saturday night with its new production of Verdi's "Aida," utilizing colorblind casting and quirky costume design.

In the story of an Ethiopian slave (Soprano Tamara Wilson) who falls in love with an Egyptian general (Yonghoon Lee), WNO cast a caucasian woman and an Asian man. Also creating some confusion, the costumes and scenes had a strong Chinese appearance, making it once again confusing about the setting, which is Egypt.

Director Francesca Zambello has offered a strong cast with beautiful voices and enhanced the play with stunning ballet choreography by Jessica Lang.

As Aida, Wilson has a beautiful voice, rich with pathos and suffering. As her lover Radamès, Lee showcases tender soft tones, mixed with the stoic and stiff gate of a soldier. But their chemistry is slightly off, and while they both sing perfectly, there is little to show for their love, other than a shared sense of despair at the forces that are pulling them apart.

Amneris, Radamès' jealous fiancee, who happens to be the daughter of the King of Egypt (Ekaterina Semenchuk) brings a bit more sizzle to the stage, as she courts dotingly on her man, and throws epic quantities of shade at her rival Aida. The mezzo-soprano has a voice as rich and sweet as molasses. She is also animated and dramatic, a "mean girl" of historic proportions.

The production also has a strong supporting case, with Morris Robinson's Ramfis, who portrays the hypocritical Egyptian priest as a damning and unforgiving zealot. Soloman Howard is stolid and intense as the Pharaoh. Meanwhile, as Aida's father Amonasro, Gordon Hawkins strikes and emotional and somber tone.

The production opened last year at San Francisco Opera. While the use of eclectic costumes (designed by Anita Yavich) is confusing, even more uncommon are the stark concrete sets with what looks like Chinese or Japanese writing on enormous pillars designed by Michael Yeargan.

Meanwhile, the quirky Asian-inspired writing by Marquis Lewis, a street artist, provide a rugged Urban feel to the production, it adds to the confusion about exactly where the story is set. Though perplexing, it is visually stunning, and his work also adorns the Kennedy Center's Hall of Nations. The mix of hieroglyphics, Asian calligraphy, and Hebrew script provide a kind of global view of the fractured Egyptian society where the story is set.

"Aida" runs through September 23, with a final performance as the annual Opera in the Outfield event, broadcast live to Nationals Park from the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St NW. For tickets or information, call 202-467-4600 or go to kennedy-center.org


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