Aida to be “grand opera at its finest”

Summer school, online classes help students catch up, get ahead
March 14, 2014
Column: Taking risks
March 14, 2014

Aida to be “grand opera at its finest”

This semester’s presentation of Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida will be the largest opera production ever to take place at Bob Jones University, with more actors, costumes and unique set pieces than ever before.

This opera has been a BJU tradition since its first performance in 1943. The upcoming production of Aida, 10 years in the making, will be the eighth time the opera has been performed at BJU.

The curtain opens on a war between Egypt and Ethiopia. The protagonist, Radames, is the general of the winning Egyptian army. While in Memphis, he falls madly in love with Aida, the Ethiopian slave of the Egyptian princess Amneris, Radames’ betrothed.

Unknown to Radames, Aida is actually the captured princess of Ethiopia. Radames then leaves for battle and conquers the Ethiopian army. He returns triumphant with the captured king Amonasro, Aida’s father.

Amonasro commands Aida not to reveal either of their identities to the Egyptians and convinces her, against her will, to get secret battle plans from Radames. When Radames realizes what he has done, he surrenders to the Egyptian priests out of a sense of patriotism.

Doomed either to be buried alive or renounce his love for Aida, Radames chooses death. Unbeknownst to him, Aida has escaped capture and has hidden in the vault prepared for Radames. The two reunite in the tomb and die together, while above, Amneris mourns and prays for Radames’ soul.

Five distinguished guest artists will perform the main roles in Aida: soprano Indra Thomas will play Aida; mezzo-soprano Mary Phillips will play Amneris; tenor Clay Hilley will play Radames; bass Kevin Thompson will play Ramphis; and baritone Grant Youngblood will play Amonasro.

While guest singers are a part of all operas produced at BJU, a new aspect of Aida will be a guest conductor from the Metropolitan Opera, Maestro Steven White. White is a 1985 BJU graduate with a master’s degree in music from the University of South Carolina. His brother, David White, is the conductor of the Georgia Boy Choir who sang at a previous artist series this semester.

All members of the Collegiate Choir, Concert Choir and Chorale will perform in various roles. More than 100 choir members will participate in some capacity.

Aida, as with many operas, will be sung in Italian. To help with audience comprehension, English supertitles will be projected above the stage.

The opera will be produced as closely to Giuseppe Verdi’s original script as possible. “We’ve made a couple of musical cuts to bring the length of the opera under what it needs to be for our campus productions,” said Dr. Darren Lawson, the stage director and program producer.

This production will be entirely original, meaning that the costumes, wigs and set pieces have been made specifically for this performance. All of these elements, including 220 costumes and more than 100 wigs, have been created on campus by students and staff.

“All the costumes and sets are new,” said Meagan Ingersoll, the student assistant director. “We have giant columns and lots of steps and stairways.”

The set, created by BJU students, is expected to be stunning in its intricacy. “Some of the scenes will change in front of the audience,” Lawson said, “which is very special.”

Another highlight of the production is the Triumphal March scene at the end of Act II. There will be more than 200 people on stage during this scene. The choreography will be especially engaging, with tumblers and dancers performing incredible stunts.

“This is grand opera at its finest,” Lawson said.  “I know of no other universities that can pull off a production of this magnitude.”

Performances will take place at 8 p.m. on March 18, 20 and 22.