By Nicole Hamilton
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The Dayton Opera had just one week to rehearse Aida in the Mead Theatre at the brand-new Benjamin and Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center.
As the curtain rose for the first act to reveal a simple but effective set design - courtesy of L'Opera de Montreal - this didn't seem like such an amazing feat. But as the opera continued, giving way to the spectacular second act - a celebration of victory complete with lots of Dayton residents enjoying a brief moment of fame - it was evident that the company met, and surpassed, a great challenge.
It was neither easy for Charles Wendelken-Wilson to conduct nor Debbie Blunden-Diggs to choreograph an opera like Aida with only one week on the home stage. But Friday evening, performing for a full house, the Dayton Opera made it look that way.
The opera is love story about an Ethiopian slave, Aida (performed by Michele Capalbo in her Dayton Opera debut), and Radames, the captain of the Egyptian guard (performed by Scott Piper). When Amneris, the daughter of the king of Egypt, finds out about the affair between her slave and the man she's slated to marry, she sets out to end to it. Radames is sent to battle in Ethiopia and captures Amonasro, the country's king. When he brings Amonasro (sung by baritone Lester Lynch) before the king of Egypt (performed by Kenneth Shaw), it is revealed that Aida is in fact Amonasro's daughter.
Although all the performers showed tremendous capabilities as both vocalists and actors, it was Jill Grove's portrayal of Amneris that stood out for its depth of emotion. At times humorous, other times vengeful, she understood the ebb and flow of feelings that exist within the character she portrayed.
Piper was in fine form performing duets with both Grove and Capalbo and accenting passages at just the right time to enhance the star quality (and talent) of the women. He also carried a great deal of the solos, his executions energetic and convincing.
Lynch's beautiful baritone voice and Cincinnati native David Michael's opening solo (as Ramfis, the high priest) were other performance standouts. Capalbo performed best during her arias but seemed to lack passion at other times.
The first time Aida was performed in Italy, the standing ovation lasted 32 curtain calls. The ovation was shorter Friday night, but the enthusiastic energy was perhaps similar to that of Milan in the 1870s. Between a new center with stellar acoustics and an excellent opera company, Dayton has a lot to clap about.
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