To whet everyone's appetite for Verdi's epic Egyptian love story, there were "buff, hard-bodied male and female models in Egyptian garb serving as lobby eye candy," observed Lawrence A. Johnson in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. And what the audience enjoyed inside the Ziff Ballet Opera House, he found, was "a sleek, intelligent, stylized Aida that manages to be outwardly traditional yet wryly revisionist and visually stunning.
"Set and costume designer Allen Charles Klein and director Bliss Hebert have performed a timely power-washing of the usual hoary clich_s," Johnson continued. "A bracing mix of selective grandeur and austere Minimalism reigns. There are no live animals in this Triumphal March, only a pair of massive golden elephant-shaped frames."
He was less satisfied with some of the costumes (Aida's "precipitous d_colletage" notwithstanding): "Less successful are the getups for the ministers and priests in Act I, with futuristic gowns and pasty makeup that looks like a cross between Stargate and Night of the Living Thebians."
Octavio Roca, reviewing for Miami New Times, was not as impressed with Hebert's staging. Not to worry: this particular opera "is, frankly, director-proof," he wrote (is he forgetting about directors like Hans Neuenfels?), "... but it can rise or fall on sheer vocal power. There was power to spare in this production."
Supplying much of that wattage was the formidable Aida of Angela M. Brown, whose Met debut in the role in 2004 made page A1 of The New York Times. "Her soprano is a sound to behold, huge in resources yet with amazing flexibility and warmth," wrote the Sun-Sentinel's Johnson. "Her rich, gleaming voice cut through the massed ensembles with power to burn, yet her quiet singing was extraordinary, finely focused even in the most hushed dynamics."
Her Radames, as it happened, was a short-notice substitute: the originally scheduled Andrew Richards withdrew from the entire run due to illness, and Arnold Rawls filled in with his first staged performance of the role. He "delivered with gallant skill," according to The Miami Herald; the Sun-Sentinel wrote that "the young tenor showed fine stage presence and moved well ... [he] has a quick vibrato that lends excitement ... [but sometimes his singing] was wanting in heroic attack, too soft-focus when more dramatic thrust was needed."
"For once," Johnson continued, "Aida's rival for Radames' affections proved equally formidable. Imperious and bounteous of tone, mezzo Guang Yang as Amneris was an apt counterpart to Aida, flinging out top notes with fury and abandon, yet making her character's contrition sensitively palpable in the final scene."
The Herald Enrique Fernandez wrote that "Morris D. Robinson's Ramfis was grave and scary. No less commanding was Gregg Baker's Amonasro."
And the acoustics in the new house? New Times's Roca found that "It is no small matter that voices sound great and that the acoustics are warm and clear ... One could admire the colors of each thread in Verdi's intricate vocal fabric thanks not only to Maestro [Stewart] Robertson's sensitive touch but also to the hall."
Florida Grand Opera's new production of Verdi's Aida continues through November 30 in the Ziff Ballet Opera House at the Carnival Center in Miami. For more information, visit www.fgo.org.