Ukrainian born soprano Maria Guleghina made a vivid, exciting Aida. I
liked her in wild-eyed, supercharged numbers. For all of her Ukrainian
heritage, Guleghina has Verdi in her veins as she sang in the capital
city of the United States, Washington, D.C.
Aline from an early Noel Coward song -- "There's life in the old girl yet!"
-- kept flashing through my mind as the Washington Opera, Washington
D.C. presented its inaugural performance at DAR Constitution Hall on
Saturday night wrote Tim Page, for the Washington Post on Monday,
February 24, 2003.
The famously dowdy auditorium, which opened in 1929 as a venue designed for
nothing more complicated than lectures, conventions and an occasional
concert, seemed an improbable stopgap for the Washington Opera during the
year-long renovation of its permanent home in the Kennedy Center. Still,
throw in a $2.5 million overhaul, upgrade the acoustics, build a new stage
stretching 18 rows out into the auditorium, mount a creative and often
visually stunning production of Giuseppe Verdi's "Aida" and -- presto
change-o! -- Washington has a new opera house.
It is, to be sure, an unusual space for music theater. Because Constitution
Hall has no orchestra pit, the Washington Opera Orchestra musicians were
forced to play up on the stage itself, behind the sets and singers. The
conductor, Heinz Fricke, kept track of the action by watching a monitor near
his podium, while the singers followed his beat through television screens
located along the footlights. Conductor and orchestra were mostly invisible
to the audience, hidden behind a scrim, but Verdi's characters -- the
guilt-wracked Ethiopian slave girl Aida and her ardent lover Radames --
lived out their doomed, tuneful lives only a few feet from the nearest
spectators. Despite the Rube Goldberg chain of events required to make this
all come together, the result was opera of rare immediacy.
Director Paolo Micciche has created what he calls a "virtual set" of
projected images that metamorphose throughout the evening -- now stark
black-and-white hieroglyphs, now a riot of golden sarcophagi, now a
blood-red river. In most operatic productions, the sets stand still and the
characters move; in this "Aida," the situation is all but reversed. It is,
if you like, a sort of operatic gloss on the theory of relativity. All is
fluid, mercurial, dizzyingly alive, an entire world conjured from six
7,000-watt projectors at the top of Constitution Hall, Tim Page
reported in The Washington Post.
The idea of mating and melding film projections and live action in this
manner is not a new one; Philip Glass and Jerome Sirlin were doing something
similar with "1,000 Airplanes on the Roof" as far back as 1988. But it is
remarkable how effective the technique has become, and in the best moments
of this "Aida," experiment has been advanced to the level of calm assurance.
The characters swim freely in their own multidimensional universe, one that
we inhabit with them for the duration of the opera.
Nobody will ever mistake Constitution Hall for any sort of acoustical
exemplar. In general, the orchestra still sounds like a phonograph record
being played far, far away. And yet the resultant tone, although dim, was
balanced throughout the sections, and one could, with concentration, make
out most of the details of Verdi's orchestration. (I sat in Row H, on the
main floor of the theater; three of my colleagues, in different stations of
the hall, offer their preliminary assessments today as well.) Fricke led the
newly renamed Washington Opera Orchestra and Chorus with his customary
mixture of propulsion and nuance; his continued presence in this troupe is a
boon to our musical community.
Maria Guleghina made a vivid, exciting Aida. Her voice is large, dark,
versatile and charged with emotional intensity; moreover, she has presence.
Her high notes are occasionally uneasy but they always come through
eventually, and her declamatory singing is sometimes thrilling. I liked her
in wild-eyed, supercharged numbers such as "Ritorna vincitor" more than I
did in a sustained lyrical utterance such as "O patria mia," but the
impression she left was overwhelmingly favorable. For all of her Ukrainian
heritage, Guleghina has Verdi in her veins, according to Tim Page of
The Washington Post.
Tenor Franco Farina, who sang the role of Radames, has improved vastly in
the dozen or so years he has been singing in the better houses. His pitch
sense is now assured; he sings with a generous, ringing tone, and his acting
is dignified and conscientious. I still find Farina a rather prosaic
interpreter -- even commanders of the ancient Egyptian army must have
proffered a little charm now and then -- but he did his part, according
to The Washington Post story.
Baritone Mark Delavan was nothing less than riveting as Aida's father,
Amonasro. He sang with urgency, power and the utmost gravity: As the
enslaved king of Ethiopia, he reminded me of a captured lion, battered but
unbowed. Mezzo-soprano Marianne Cornetti sang the role of Amneris with a
warm, burnished luster. She occasionally was drowned out in the early
ensembles with Guleghina and Farina but did a splendid, multidimensional
turn in the climactic scene of the final act, winning one of the strongest
ovations of the evening in the process. There was worthy support from Hao
Jiang Tian as Ramfis, John Marcus Bindel as the King of Egypt, Barbara
Quintiliani as the Priestess and Matthew Ryan Wolff as the Messenger. The
choreography was by Nilas Martins.
All in all, it was a good evening to have been at the opera. Confronted with
the challenge of a year in exile in a less-than-optimal venue, the
Washington Opera has met the test with energy and imagination. One
innovation fell flat, however -- the incorporation of a "new fiber-optic
self-illuminating textile" called Luminex, which was supposed to "reveal the
inner emotions of the opera's characters" through glowing lights within and
without their costumes. And so Radames and Aida burned blue in their final
duet, while Amneris's inner rage was represented in a reddish light that
made the princess look like cotton candy personified. In this context,
Luminex seemed little more than a weird, ungainly fashion accessory, no more
profound or meaningful than a mood ring.
The Washington Times newspaper in their article about the opera "Aida"
stated this about Ukrainian soprano Maria Guleghina:
"It also was popular Italian Ambassador Ferdinando Salleo's last public
appearance after seven years en poste. (He is leaving to go back to Italy.)
"Mr. Salleo, a veteran of 10 versions of "Aida," diplomatically pronounced
it "superb," going out of his way to say that Ukrainian soprano Maria
Guleghina was "wonderful."
NOTE from ArtUkraine.com about Ukrainian soprano Maria Guleghina.
The soprano Maria Guleghina was born in Odesa in Southern Ukraine and
studied with Prof Ivanov at the Odesa Conservatory. She began her
professional career in 1985 with the Minsk Opera and made her Western
European debut in 1987 at La Scala, Milan, singing the title role in Tosca,
Amelia in Un Ballo in Maschera alongside Luciano Pavarotti, and other roles.
Since then she has sung leading roles in many of the world's opera houses,
including the Metropolitan, the Vienna State Opera, Covent Garden, the Paris
National Opera, Verona, La Fenice in Venice, Tokyo, Sydney, Frankfurt and
Guleghina is hailed as one of the most outstanding sopranos of the last
decade has played the dramatic prima donna roles in Italian repertory such
as "Nabucco", "Macbeth", "Aida", "Manon Lescaut", "Il Trovatore", "Un
Ballo in Maschera", "Norma" and most notably, "Tosca".
She has been particularly identified with the role of Tosca, upon which she
has left her indelible mark in important theatres such as the Metropolitan
Opera, La Scala, the Royal Opera at the Covent Garden, the Paris Opera,
the Vienna State Opera and the San Francisco Opera.
Combining stunning good looks and theatricality of immense conviction with a
voice of great power, warmth and thrust, She has emerged as the most
acclaimed soprano singing Italian opera of her days. During the 1997-98
season, she sang the stupendous role of Lady Macbeth in "Macbeth" at the
Arena di Verona where the soprano was awarded the coveted Giovanni
Zanatello Prize for her sensational debut the previous sea! son in
Her discography includes recordings of principal roles in Aleko, Francesca
di Rimini, Oberto, The Queen of Spades, Andrea Chenier, Nabucco and