Aida - May 2013

Extracts from a review byRoddie Dunnett

In 1951, Royal Opera singer, teacher and conductor Audrey Langford and producer Ande Anderson, later Covent Garden's Director of Productions, amassed an ensemble for the postwar Festival of Britain. From this sprang Kentish Opera. Working with some top directors (John Cox, John Copley and Colin Graham) and conductors (Alex Ingram, and their present patron, David Parry) landed Kentish Opera in the near-top bracket: up there with Dorset, Buxton and Longborough.

Verdi's Aida is no newcomer to their vast repertoire which also includes Nabucco; a shivering, top-class Rigoletto; The Force of Destiny, Macbeth, La Traviata. They produced an exemplary Orpheus in the Underworld in 2009. English opera flourished early on: Riders to the Sea (Vaughan Williams/J. M. Synge), Sir John in Love (also VW), and Ethel Smyth's The Boatwains's Mate. Theirs is a track record to envy.
Toby Scholz is a tenor of hefty repertoire, His voice rode attractively over the full chorus - no mean feat, for Kentish Opera choruses are impressive, meaty affairs.

The ceremonial scenes in praise of the god Ptah, featuring a large chorus resplendently choreographed, were vital and energised. The dances (the staggeringly experienced Terry John Bates, manipulating seven girl dancers) are beautifully blocked and skillfully executed. The visuals hum with life. Soprano Wolk-Lewanowicz has the attacking power to pull off Mozart's blazing Donna Anna; and though her acting offers nothing feisty here, when she lets rip she shines: exciting, galvanising, electrifying even: vocally every inch an Aida.

Enid Strutt's set - she has created well over 40 for this company - has its strengths but also some drawbacks. Reliance on a single set of central steps limited the scope for inventive movement. Far more impressive were Carol Stevenson's costumes - some of the chorus ones superb, the warriors' well-researched.

The detail beamed out from Robyn Sevastos' orchestra, like the oboe hugging Radames' 'Céleste Aida'. I'd have loved to hear Swedish bass-baritone Håkan Vramsmo, a singer of great charisma and with a voice to die for, sing Amonasro, captive king of the Nubians and Aida's father.

I needn't have worried. Vramsmo alternated Mark Saberton, one of the most impressive character singers of his generation: a major star this, or any, company should forthwith engage to sing Verdi's (or Salieri's) Falstaff, for he is tailor-made for the role. Saberton's seething arrival amid imprisoned entourage lifted this Aida onto an entire new plane. Here is a singer whose talent and experience place him on a European, even worldwide, plane. The voice, like the persona, are stupendous. Saberton knows how to produce the notes, and to mould them: he delivers them with astounding authority, firmness and ferocity. Rolling those mesmerising, suffering eyes, Saberton (he was Kentish Opera's vile, beastly Rigoletto) is an electrifying performer to watch and a sensational one to hear. It's his performance that puts this Aida into the realm of a great production.

Extracts from a review by Pippa Hare

Kentish Opera once again produced a splendid 'show' for their sixtieth anniversary year with a production of AIDA by Giuseppi Verdi, first performed in 1869 at the Italian Theatre in Cairo. What a giant task it must have been for Sally Langford but her expert direction shone through. Terry John Bates whose responsibility it was to inspire the dancers in their routines produced a very polished result and what scope there was for Carol Stevenson who designed the terrific costumes

The colours in particular in Scene 2, The City of Thebes were vivid, especially the bright emerald green of the dancing girls' costumes and their giant gold 'fans' were a visual delight. With the whole cast on stage all slotting in like a human jigsaw, and each performer adding to the whole was a sight to see. Terry John Bates did a great job, enhanced by Carol Stevenson's wonderful costumes.

To pick out just a few of the singers, firstly I have to mention Mark Saberton (Amanasro) whose strong clear baritone voice was a joy to hear. The tenor Toby Sholtz as Radames managed his long part well and produced a good clear sound. Laura Wolk-Lewanowicz played a sensitive Aida and managed well to sustain her long arias and with ease. The orchestra, under the direction of Robyn Sevastos, tucked away in their little pit, produced a very pleasing sound, never too loud, keeping just 'underneath' the singers. A special mention should be given for the trumpeters, Alex Cromwell and Matilda Lloyd.

I should also like to congratulate Graham Copeland for his excellent programme design.