Co-produced with San Francisco, Washington National, and Minnesota Operas, this classic opera about passion, jealousy, and war is visually and musically spectacular.

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Opera review

“Aida” may well be the grandest of the grand operas, but it needs inspired staging and exceptional voices in order to make Verdi’s masterpiece shine.

Seattle Opera’s current “Aida” does just that. Co-produced with San Francisco, Washington National and Minnesota Operas, this classic opera about passion, jealousy and war is visually and musically spectacular. The crucial dialogues in the opera take on a new intensity; the larger-scale scenes have an almost over-the-top energy, with lots of action and bold design elements that constantly shift and move. The exuberant finale of Act II had the stage full of dancing, singing and a hailstorm of tiny gold “glitter discs” pouring down like confetti on the cast.

Francesca Zambello, a renowned stage director with a lot of Seattle Opera history, created the original staging for this production; E. Loren Meeker has reinterpreted the staging for Seattle. The result is an imaginative balance between the show’s big-moment pageantry and the intimate smaller-scale scenes. “Aida” can feel like a series of pompous tableaux, but this production is never static, always evolving.

There’s a lot to see in Michael Yeargan’s ingenious, inventive set, and in the vibrant, red-and-gold hieroglyph/graffiti-influenced designs of the artist RETNA. They’re strikingly effective: these designs might be seen on today’s urban street scene, yet onstage they evoke ancient hieroglyphics.

The show’s musical values were in good hands with conductor John Fiore, a native Seattleite who now has a major European career. Pacing the orchestra musicians, supporting the singers and giving Verdi’s timeless melodies their full due, Fiore extracted the maximum drama from the score with an impeccable sense of timing.

The opening-night cast on Saturday presented American soprano Leah Crocetto in the title role. Her voice is beautiful, large and vibrant, and she is a passionate actress. Unfortunately she was not shown to advantage by the dumpy outfit from designer Anita Yavich. Milijana Nikolic, as her victorious rival Amneris, was luckier, attired in a beautiful yellow gown, in which she looked appropriately stately. Her voice, however, was more variable on both extremes of its compass: the bottom notes had a heavy vibrato and little carrying power, and the top notes were strained.

In the role of Radamès, the ill-fated commander who loves Aida, Brian Jagde displayed superb power and focus, but also was able to dial down that Wagner-sized tenor a bit in his more tender scenes with Aida. Gordon Hawkins made a compelling, complex Amonasro; the stentorian Daniel Sumegi was the implacable high priest, Ramfis; and Clayton Brainerd made an effective King. Even the smaller roles shone: Eric Neuville’s lyrical Messenger, and the powerful Marcy Stonikas as the High Priestess.

On Sunday, an alternate cast took over the principal roles. Alexandra LoBianco gave a subtle but impassioned performance in the title role; her Radamès, David Pomeroy, proved an excellent singing actor, and Alfred Walker made a compelling Amonasro. Elena Gabouri’s remarkable Amneris had a pushy lower register into which she seemed to downshift whenever the vocal score went below middle C, but she sang with such spectacular conviction and all-out intensity that it was hard not to root for her.

The chorus, prepared by John Keene and absolutely essential to the success of “Aida,” sang with strength and accuracy.

Arresting images from the production haunt the memory: the moonlit opening of Act III, where dancers appear to float on a floor of stage fog, one of many beautiful effects highlighted by lighting designers Mark McCullough and his associate Peter W. Mitchell. Despite the famous grandiosity of the opera, this show never feels static, largely because of Jessica Lang’s imaginative choreography. Lang highlights the exquisite principal dancer Laura Mead — along with a charming crew of children who performed a high-energy dance in Amneris’ boudoir. The three-hour show passes by in a twinkling.


“Aida” by Verdi; Seattle Opera production with John Fiore conducting. Saturday, May 5, and Sunday, May 6, continuing through Saturday, May 19; McCaw Hall at Seattle Center, 321 Mercer St., Seattle; 206-389-7676;