Thursday, February 23, 2012

Q&A with "Aida"'s Lisa Daltirus

Soprano Lisa Daltirus has made Aida a signature role with performances at some of the world's top opera houses, as well as New York's Carnegie Hall and Avery Fisher Hall.  From March 3-11, she and Mary Elizabeth Williams share the part of the captive Ethiopian princess at Arizona Opera.

Both Daltirus and Williams return to Arizona Opera after garnering critical acclaim in the Company’s 2009 production of Tosca.  As Daltirus explains in this interview, the role of Aida is among the most demandingand rewardingfor sopranos.
Q: What drew you to opera growing up?

A: While growing up in Plainfield, N.J., my life was centered around church choir, youth group and performing arts programs after school.  I studied dance for eight yearsballet, tap and jazz. I took piano lessons for the same.

Opera came more as an epiphany in my senior year of high school.  I always sang but was more interested in drama/acting.  When the "light bulb" came on, I knew I had a more classic-sounding voice and felt the marriage of my voice and acting would be opera.

Soprano Lisa Daltirus, Arizona Opera's Aida
Q: What do you enjoy most about performing Verdi?

A:  Verdi calls for a lot of versatility from the lead characters. He employs a large vocal range, dynamics, legato, coloratura and more in his composition.  It is very challenging and rewarding to accomplish.  His operas have many intimate moments as well as large choral scenes.  It's always a great musical experience.

Q:  What's the hardest part in portraying Aida?

A:  Portraying the role of Aida is challenging to convey both the slave that she is to Amneris while concealing the underlying fact that she is a princess.  I feel this fact is what keeps her intriguing to both Amneris and Radames.  It is interesting to portray her emotions and ultimate decision regarding pursuing love or loyalty to country. 

Q:  What do you think has made Aida such a popular opera?

A:   First, it is set in an exotic location.  It is always interesting to see the set design and for the audience to be able to "transport" themselves to ancient Egypt.  Secondly, the spectacle of the Triumphal Scene is always exciting as it incorporates a large chorus, dancers and, whenever possible, some animals.  Most importantly, there are arias and scenes for the lead characters that are well known to opera audiences. It creates anticipation as the opera unfolds.

Q:  What role have you not performed that you would like to?

A:  There are many but of the Verdi repertoire it would be Elisabetta in Don Carlo and Leonore in La Forza del Destino.

Q:  When you aren't on tour, where do you live? What do you enjoy in your free time?

A:  I live in suburban Philadelphia, Pa. and I spend most of my home time attending to the advancement and care of my children: Lea, who is 18, and Demetrius, who is 16.  

I am also very involved in my church. I am a good cook and I enjoy teaching voice when I get the opportunity.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Director John Hoomes believes that for all of its pomp and grandeur, "Aida" is really a chamber opera

Act II Triumphal March
In November 1869, Khedive Ismail, the ruler of Egypt (who three years later would contribute handsomely to the fund for Wagner's theater in Bayreuth), announced plans to open a new opera house in Cairo as part of the celebrations surrounding the opening of the Suez Canal. He asked Verdi to compose an "inaugural hymn" for its opening night, which was planned for November 1870. Verdi was not too happy with this idea, and declined. But he was enthusiastic when an alternative suggestion was proposed; he would compose an opera based on an ancient Egyptian subject. And Verdi’s Aida was a huge smash hit for everyone involved.

Just as Aida was becoming a worldwide success, Verdi created an official production book to show other producers how the opera should be done. This book detailed approved stage plans, scenic positioning, and instructions for every move and gesture, down to the placement of the chorus. The production book also included such practical tips as how to extinguish any gas flame jets that might set fire to Amneris when she entered in the last scene in her long mourning veil. By creating this production book, Verdi felt secure that when Aida was staged, he had laid out the ground plan for that production’s success. By Verdi’s insistence that someone follow every little detail, he helped create a position which was relatively new in opera at the time -- the Stage Director.

Arizona Opera presents "Aida" for the first time in over a decade
The opera Aida has now become synonymous with the term “Italian Grand Opera”. On the surface, that is certainly true, but it’s not really fair to the work, or what Verdi strove so lovingly to create. The opera may often be seen as a type of Cecil B. DeMille juggernaut that encompasses all of Egypt (and often a few rented camels). But at its heart, Aida is actually an intimate chamber opera about the intense love triangle between the three central characters. The opera just happens to have a giant parade running smack down the middle. 
For all the opera’s pomp and grandeur, the show really comes to life if the character relationships are clearly defined, and if the characters become…well…human. One of our goals in this production is to do just that. Love and passion have not changed over the centuries and opera, as an art form, offers long standing proof.  -- JOHN HOOMES
Performances are March 3 & 4 at Tucson Music Hall and March 9-11 at Phoenix Symphony Hall