Arts & Culture

Grand opera 'Aida' celebrates Central Coast arts scene

From left to right, Jonathan Tran, Michael Villareal, Ralph Cato, Ben Gulley and Gabriel Vamvulescu appear in Opera San Luis Obispo's production of "Aida."
From left to right, Jonathan Tran, Michael Villareal, Ralph Cato, Ben Gulley and Gabriel Vamvulescu appear in Opera San Luis Obispo's production of "Aida."

Lengthy, lavish and loaded with cultural significance, the monumental “Triumphal March” from Giuseppe Verdi’s “Aida” is the true test of any opera company.

The processional, which depicts Egypt celebrating its triumph over Ethiopia in battle, features scores of costumed dancers accompanied by a full orchestra and chorus.

“You really have to look at those 28 minutes of music and ask yourself if you can really do this,” explained Brian Asher Alhadeff, artistic director of Opera San Luis Obispo. “If you can do that, ‘Aida’ is the right opera for you.”

This weekend, Opera San Luis Obispo presents “Aida” with the help of local performing arts groups including Ballet Theatre San Luis Obispo, Civic Ballet of San Luis Obispo and the Central Coast Children’s Choir. CORE Dance Company, Deyo Dances and Studio @-Ryan’s American Dance also lend a hand.

“This production of ‘Aida’ is really a celebration of what we can do in San Luis Obispo,” said Alhadeff, who serves as the show’s conductor. “This is from start to finish a made-in-San-Luis-Obispo show.”

Alhadeff described “Aida,” which premiered in Cairo in 1871, as a commanding work of art that has earned its title as “the grandest of all operas.” The opera features an Italian-language libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni and music by Verdi.

“Thematically and musically, it’s a masterpiece from beginning to end,” he said. “From the moment the curtain rises, it’s this outpouring of content. It’s exciting, beautiful material that’s either gloriously sung or lavishly staged through the exoticness of the time period.”

Opera San Luis Obispo’s production of “Aida” is directed by Daniel J. Witzke and choreographed by Civic Ballet’s artistic director, Drew Silvaggio.

Set in ancient Egypt some 3,000 years ago during the reign of the pharaohs, “Aida” revolves around “your average Verdi love triangle with political elements,” Alhadeff said — in this case, a fictional war between Egypt and Ethiopia, Alhadeff said. 

Egyptian military commander Radames (Ben Gulley) is in love with Aida (Tracy Cox), the enslaved Ethiopian princess who serves the daughter of the Egyptian king (Ben Brady), Princess Amneris (Lauren Curnow). Amneris pines hopelessly after Radames, while Aida is torn between her love for the warrior and her loyalty to her native country. 

The rest of the cast includes Ralph Cato as Ethiopian king Amonasro, Gabriel Vamvulescu as high priest Ramfis, Juni Kim as a high priestess and Jonathan Tran as a messenger.

Alhadeff said he sought performers with voices powerful enough to handle Verdi’s challenging material. 

“A piece like ‘Aida’ requires the largest voices … to cut through this very dense choral and orchestral texture,” he said. “The kind of singers that we have to cast in an opera like this are really superhero opera singers.”

Those powerhouse performers will be backed Saturday and Sunday by a 58-member orchestra, a 62-member chorus and a 40-member dance troupe, Alhadeff said.

That’s a 30 percent increase in overall participants compared to Opera San Luis Obispo’s production of “Carmen” last October. 

Such artistic firepower is essential when attempting a production as massive as “Aida,” Alhadeff said.

“When you’ve got the tools to make something grand … (you) always opt for the biggest and the best,” he said.

If you go

‘Aida’

7 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday 

Cohan Center, Cal Poly

$10.50 to $80

756-4849 or www.pacslo.org

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