UTAH OPERA, "Aida," Capitol Theatre, Saturday, additional performances today, Wednesday and Friday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m., 355-2787, and Oct. 27 at the Val A. Browning Center, Ogden, 801-399-9214.
For its beautiful singing, talented acting, dramatic power and lavish sets and costumes that evoke the spirit of ancient Egypt, Utah Opera's "Aida" should be on everyone's must-see list.
A co-production with L'Opera de Montreal, "Aida" boasts a stellar cast that doesn't disappoint in its vocal artistry and forceful acting.
Leading the roster is soprano Frances Ginsberg in the title role. As the Ethiopian princess enslaved by the Egyptians, Ginsberg lends credibility to her character, who is torn between her love for the Egyptian general Radames and her homeland. Ginsberg gave a performance Saturday that was poignant and heartfelt.
Particularly striking was her Act II aria, "O Patria mia." (In this production, the original first two acts are combined into one long opening act.) The plaintive obligato oboe that accompanies Aida in this aria adds to the loneliness and anguish she feels at being separated from her family and country. Ginsberg sang it exquisitely, bringing feeling and emotion to the music.
No less impressive is mezzo-soprano Mary Phillips in her debut as the pharaoh's daughter Amneris. She is a vocal powerhouse as well as a compelling actor. In love with Radames, she projected pride, anger, rage and jealousy as she eventually realizes that Aida is her rival and that Radames doesn't reciprocate her love.
Tenor Phillip Webb makes a stunning Radames. Vocally, he has the power to reach his high notes with ease while never compromising on lyrical beauty.
Webb's beautifully phrased "Celesta Aida" was one of the high points of the evening.
Among the numerous ensembles, several were especially noteworthy. Equally matched in vocal expressiveness, Ginsberg and Phillips sang a duet in Act I, ("Fu la sorte dell'armi a' tuoi funesta") that was remarkable for its dramatic impact.
However, for sheer poignancy, "O terra addio" was unsurpassed. Singing their farewell to the world, Radames and Aida await their death after being immured in a tomb.
The rest of the cast was also of the highest caliber. Baritone Haijing Fu, as Aida's father Amonasro; bass Stanislav Shvets, as the high priest Ramfis; and bass Gustav Andreassen as the pharaoh were wonderful. And the Utah Opera Chorus gave its customary first-rate performance.
Conductor Joseph Rescigno, directing members of the Utah Symphony, showed his fine sense of balance and pacing. His tempos were well chosen, giving the singers the freedom they needed to project and allowing them to sing naturally and fluidly.