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Friday May 26th 2017

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Aïda: Forbidden Love

By Shelby Smithey

Set in ancient Egypt during the reign of the pharaohs, the classic Giuseppe Verdi opera “Aïda” and its tale of love and loyalty will soon be brought to life by the Pensacola Opera.

Leading lady Mary Elizabeth Williams will play Aïda. This will be Williams’ seventh production of the Italian opera.

“Aïda is an Ethiopian princess held captive in Egypt and made a slave to Amneris, the Egyptian princess,” Williams said. “She and Amneris both love the same man, Radamès, but Radamès loves Aïda, a fact which puts everyone in danger.”

Aïda first premiered in 1871 and has been performed thousands of times in opera houses across the world.

“I think one of the unique aspects of this opera is its ability to be grand and intimate at the same time,” Williams said. “Aïda’ is an opera made famous for its chorus and dance scenes; it has a large orchestra and there are moments when the sheer wall of sound coming from all of us singing and playing together take takes your breath away.”

However in other scenes, Williams said, there are very intimate musical expressions of emotion that pull the audience in, that make them lean forward in their chairs and feel part of the story.

“Every time I come back to this piece, my respect and admiration for Verdi grow,” Williams said. “In Aïda,’ he built the ultimate emotional rollercoaster.”

Williams said that because she has performed this role many times in both modern and traditional productions, she has had a chance to see her character from many angles.

“Every time I perform this role, I enjoy the challenge of finding the right balance of emotions for this complex character,” Williams said. “She is desperate, but she is also cunning; she is overwhelmed with love for Radamès, but still realistic and grounded in her own individual fate; she has resigned herself to slavery in a strange land, but still maintains pride and a sense of responsibility in being the princess of her people. Aïda is a challenge to play, and a pleasure to discover.”

Another wonderful trick of Verdi’s in “Aïda,” Williams explains, was telling a story of two love triangles.

“Not only is there the traditional love triangle between the two princesses and Radamès —there is also the love triangle among Aïda, Radamès, and, her father, Amonasro,” she said. “Both men want loyalty and obedience from Aïda, and Aïda loves both men in very different ways and wants to fulfill her obligations to them while also being true to herself. I think this complex double love triangle is a big part of why ‘Aïda’ is an opera that captures the imagination and continues to excite—almost 150 years later.”

Aïda’s father Amonasro, the King of Ethiopia, will be played by baritone Todd Thomas. Thomas first performed “Aïda” in Germany in 1997. This will be his eighth time in the production.

Thomas said that the cast has a total of two weeks for rehearsals, but the bulk of the work is done in about six days.

“One of the best things about this production is that we are all friends and have known each other for so long,” Thomas said. “I love reconnecting with friends, and I think Pensacola Opera is unique in that we have a very collaborative effort. Between our stage director Dean Anthony, our conductor Jerome Shannon, the cast and crew—everyone works together, and there’s a sense of camaraderie and fun. That doesn’t always happen.”

The leading cast includes Arnold Rawls as Radamès, Dana Beth Miller as Amneris and Adelmo Guidarelli as Ramfis.

“I’ve sung a lot of Verdi throughout my career,” Thomas said. “This part fits my voice really well. It’s a very satisfying part to sing.”

Verdi often tackles family relationships, especially between a father and child.

“He really masters these relationships and it’s exemplified in the music,” Thomas said. “There’s this scene in the third act where Aïda has to betray her father for her country. Not only was he really masterful at portraying relationships, but his operas have a lot of political overtones of issues that we still face today.”

AÏDA
WHAT: Pensacola Opera presents Aïda
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 20 and 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 22
WHERE: Saenger Theatre, 118 S. Palafox
COST: $25-$115
DETAILS: pensacolaopera.com

A “Meet the Artists” Reception will be held Friday after the show. Tickets are $50, $40 for season subscribers. A Director’s Champagne Brunch will be held before the Sunday matinee at 11:45 a.m., tickets are $50.