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Review: Aida (Lyric Opera of Chicago)

By Chicagotheaterbeat @chitheaterbeat

Review: Aida (Lyric Opera of Chicago)   

Music by Giuseppe Verdi 
Libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni
Directed by Matthew Lata
Conducted by Renato Palumbo  
Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker (map)
thru March 25  |  tickets: $34-$224  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
   Read entire review



Lyric creates a flowing, sensual Egypt


Review: Aida (Lyric Opera of Chicago)


Lyric Opera of Chicago presents



Review by K.D. Hopkins

Perhaps you have seen some of the bus stop ads for the Lyric Opera recently wherein the more juicy details of opera music are laid out for the curious consumer. There is heroism, betrayal, chicanery, and more than a few juicy love stories to be found – particularly from the Romantic period of Italian opera. Giuseppe Verdi composed Aida at a time when the world vision was expanding. People were actually traveling to exotic places formerly just imagined by Coleridge and described by Marco Polo.

Review: Aida (Lyric Opera of Chicago)
The libretto for Aida was written at the same time that tombs of the pharaohs were being opened for exploration (and in many cases, for pillaging). Egypt held a mystique for the Western world, as it was not considered part of the ‘dark continent’ of Africa but rather the ‘Orient’. Ethiopia was the closest in cultural similarities and royal lineage to Egypt and therefore it was palatable for a princess from Africa to be seen as a romantic match for an Egyptian war hero. As with portrayals of Cleopatra, the royals of these countries were presumed to have been from a conquering European culture.

I make these points because opera is informed by the time in which it was written. It is fascinating to see the different incarnations of the characters, as what was perhaps alluded to in the 19th century is given a much more frank portrayal. The Lyric’s Aida is a lush and sensual love story, with gorgeous visuals that heighten the senses. Verdi wrote this work with fewer solos and more musical interludes for dazzling choreography and stage tableaus.

In Aida, Lyric has produced a marvel of engineering, all while navigating a sea of supernumeraries. The scenic design is done in the grand style, with floor to fly-space granite columns, pyramids, secret chambers, and desert sands. Everything literally flows in this show. In looking at the older depictions of Aida, those productions had a hard edge in visual style. This time around, the edges are softened, the costumes flow (hard edges are saved for the soldiers’ armor). Even the death chamber for Aida and Radames is swathed in a soft golden tone and gentle shadows.

For the reviewed performance, the role of Aida was performed by Sondra Radvanovsky, who is renowned for her roles as Verdi heroines. She has impeccable shading and tonality in singing the sweeping notes. Radvanovsky has all of the right moves. She is an alluring princess trapped in slavery and yearning to have her rightful place and her man Radames. 

Tenor Marcello Giordani is brilliant in the stoic role of the warrior Radames. I last saw Giordani in last season’s Girl of the Golden West (my review) opposite Deborah Voigt. Giordani’s voice and presence are perfect for Aida. He carries off the royal robes with ease and strength embodying the conquering hero felled by love.

Mezzo soprano Jill Grove is mesmerizing as the lovesick Amneris. She blends insouciance with longing beautifully. Aida is her slave AND her rival, and Amneris resorts to manipulation to flush out her rival in love. It is heartbreaking to see her outside of the death chamber, having lost the man she loves and knowing he is forever

Review: Aida (Lyric Opera of Chicago)
in her slave’s arms.

Gordon Hawkins is a study in grace as the deposed Ethiopian king beseeching his daughter to take her birthright and turn away from the man she loves. Raymond Aceto is wonderfully eerie as the priest Ramfis. The scene in which he instructs Amneris to pray all night to Isis is beautiful and chilling at the same time. He gives a lovely performance when manipulating the pharaoh’s daughter and the court for political gain.

There are long interludes of music in Aida without singing. Choreographer Kenneth Von Heidecke creates a stunning tableau of palace dancers and temple servants. There are some audible gasps and murmurs of admiration for both the male and female dancers. The movements are perfect for the sweeping music and palace spectacle. Depending on the performance, it is either Jonathan Emanuell Alsberry or Randy Herrera in the midst of the ballerinas. Whichever of the two men is playing the satyr-like dancer – wow.

This is a gorgeous and impeccably produced opera and worth the expense. If you only see one performance in 2012, this is the one to see.


Rating: ★★★★



Aida continues through March 25th at the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive (map), with performances Feb 3rd and 8th at 2pm, March 6th, 10th and 19th at 7:30pm, and the final show on March 25th at 2pm.  Tickets are $34-$224, and are available by phone (312-827-5927) or online here (check for half-price tickets at More information at  (Running time: 3 hours 40 minutes, which includes two intermissions)

Review: Aida (Lyric Opera of Chicago)

All photos by Dan Rest 



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