CHAPEL HILL — N.C. Opera has made great strides in three seasons, its productions of modern works generally outshining those of the classics. But Fridays production of Giuseppe Verdis Aida in Memorial Hall proved the companys finest grand opera presentation.
The production was labeled a semi-staged concert version, but it came close to full staging. The soloists were richly costumed and there were beautifully detailed props. Projections on the back wall and mood-enhancing lighting added theatricality, along with six columns that were cleverly rearranged to suggest temples and tombs.
In front of the onstage orchestra, director David Paul kept the drama moving with as much interaction as found in full productions. Even the Triumphal March had satisfying processions of troops and treasures.
In many ways the night belonged to the orchestra and chorus. Conductor Timothy Myers was in masterful control of every phrase, bringing out the subtleties of Verdis score as well as the stirring drama. Scott Macleods chorus impressed mightily with its rhythmic precision and rich blend.
As the Ethiopian slave Aida, soprano Angela Brown produced thrilling top notes that soared over the orchestra. Her dramatic outbursts had exciting bite, although in lyrical passages her voice could become unfocused and tremulous. Leann Sandel-Pantaleos lean but penetrating mezzo gave the kings daughter Amneris an appropriately villainous tone.
Both women employed outsized gestures and posturing that sometimes became excessive, but their confrontations had gripping intensity. Andrea Edith Moores off-stage Priestess was hauntingly ethereal.
The men were quite impressive, starting with tenor Issachah Savages Egyptian commander Radames. His middle-range voice was extremely beautiful and clear, while his high notes rang out brightly, if sometimes pressured and short-breathed. Todd Thomass splendid baritone gave Aidas father, Amonasro, chilling menace and paternal warmth.
Bass Kenneth Kellogg had dignified authority as high priest Ramfis. Donald Hartmanns King and Wade Hendersons Messenger rounded out the solid cast.
Those in search of a gratifying grand opera experience should not miss Sundays repeat in Raleigh.