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October 13, 2008

Baltimore Opera offers a stirring 'Aida'

Baltimore Opera AidaStay tuned to Thursday's paper for a fuller review of Baltimore Opera's new production of Aida. Meanwhile, I can tell you this much: It's one of the most satisfying things I've seen the company do.

Saturday's opening night at the Lyric revealed so-so acting skills, but considerable musical strengths from the cast, notably tenor Antonello Palombi as Radames. He sang with great respect for Verdi's intentions (especially when it came to high, soft notes) and with palpable connection to the words. At a time when most voices seem smaller than in the good old days, it's exciting to hear a tenor who can produce so much sound, but with so much tonal variety as well; no mindless, stand-and-bark routine for this guy. Tiziana Caruso's ample low register and more limited top range suggested she would have been even more at home in the mezzo assignment of Amneris than the title role, but the soprano made her mark effectively in several key passages of the opera. Giovanna Casolla, usually heard in soprano territory, offered vocal amplitude and intensity of expression as Amneris. Mark Rucker's artistry, a combination of tone, temperament and taste, filled out the role of Amonasro handsomely. Ashley Howard Wilkinson had many a deep, resonant phrase as Ramfis.

Conductor Andrea Licata, as usual, provided a textbook case of authentic Italian opera conducting -- passionate, yet sensible; propulsive, yet always open to possibilities for rubato. The orchestra turned in some exciting work.

Designer/director Paolo Micciche once again provided projections of digital imagery in lieu of big sets and hordes of supernumeraries. The approach is a little too predictable by this point, and maybe a little too literal for its own good, but it does keep the eye engaged, just as Alberto Spiazzi's showy costumes do.

Whatever my reservations about one element or another, the overall impact of this Aida is sizable. Remaining performances are Wednesday and Friday nights and Sunday afternoon with Palombi/Caurso; Saturday night with Efe Kislali and Virginia Todisco taking the leads.

(Photo Courtesy Of Paolo Micciche/Baltimore Opera)

Posted by Tim Smith at 8:53 AM | | Comments (2)


Where have you been, Tim, in regard to Antonello's voice? His vocal capabilities have been widely recognized, particularly in this role after taking over for Alagna after his temper tantrum at La Scala.

Sorry you missed all my coverage of the Alagna scandal, my interview with Palombi when he made his Baltimore Opera debut in 'Tosca,' my review of said 'Tosca,' and my review of his return engagement in 'Forza.' So, you see, I've been right here all along. -- T.S.

I attended the Saturday performance, and was wondering why the leads were switched out just for Saturday alone.

Opera singers, especially those in demanding roles, typically need at least a day in between performances to keep their voices in shape. When an opera company schedules consecutive perfomances, a second set of leads is the norm. T.S.

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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