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Backstage with the Buzz: LA Opera’s Aida


Our extraordinary LA Opera is not only bringing Verdi’s masterpiece Aida, one of operas grandest and greatest works, to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on May 21 to June 12, it is presenting it free on June 4 with a high-definition simulcast around our community. How special is that!

Aida is a tale of forbidden love in time of war. She must choose between her heart and her homeland in Verdi’s epic love story. “Aida has long been one of the most popular of all operas because it combines sheer theatrical splendor with an enormously touching human drama,” said Christopher Koelsch, LA Opera’s president and CEO.

“As an opera lover, Aida is part of the fabric of my being,” Francesca Zambello told the Buzz. “I first experienced it with huge forces, but as I have come to work on it many times as an adult, I realized it is actually a chamber piece with a huge triumphal scene parked in the middle of the story. As a director, I know you need some spectacle, but what is crucial to me in this opera is to dig into the intimate scenes where the conflict of the four main characters drive the drama forwards: Aida, the foreign slave in captivity; her father, Amonasro, King and a prisoner of war; Amneris, daughter of the King of Egypt; and Radamès, Egyptian warrior, all caught in a love triangle and a bitter war.”

“The most famous scene of the opera—the triumphal scene is where we think of the hordes and the elephants, but what is more powerful is to focus on the four individual dramas,” continued Zambello. “There are very few moments when the characters of Aida sing solo pieces, but when they do we feel a struggle inside each of their introspective moments. With so few arias we are always experiencing the grand emotions of love and war thru duets and trios. The story brilliantly sets the individuals and their passions against the context of a society out of their control. I call this the “duty versus desire” problem, something most people are always confronting. Here though the stakes are very high.”

“I chose to collaborate with Marquis Lewis (AKA Retna) on the suggestion of LAMCO General Director, Christopher Koelsch,” explained Zambello. “His work is inspired by calligraphy and hieroglyphics, using bold colors and shapes to evoke a mythic past with a contemporary edge. I thought his visual language made a statement for today about the opera . Retna created a series of structural works, paintings and images which set designer Micheal Yeargan turned into the theatrical spaces. With costume designer Anita Yavich, we tried to compliment the power of Retna’s work with a rich color palette and costumes which felt like another time and other ways very recent. The movement of the dance uses the language of war and religious ritual. All of these visual and aural elements led us to try to set the piece in a contemporary mind frame without actually making it look like a current war zone.”

The performance stars soprano Latonia Moore and tenor Russell Thomas ,and is conducted by James Conlon. Grant Gershwin is the director of the LA Opera chorus and Jessica Lang is the choreographer. The stage director is the fabulous Francesca Zambello, and she has contributed an outstanding part of this production by assembling an extraordinary creative team with LA based street artist RETNA (Marquis Lewis), who does a strikingly gorgeous backdrop that incorporates both Egyptian hieroglyphics and graffiti. Michael Yeargan is the set designer and Anita Yavich is the costume designer.

Aida will be broadcast live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to audiences at Newhall Park in Santa Clarita, Pomona Fairplex and Santa Monica Pier on large LED screens with subtitles in both English and Spanish. It is sung in Italian. Although no tickets are required for entrance, guests are encouraged to sign up in advance at, or to get important information about parking and the latest updates. To purchase tickets to attend the opera in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, go to

Expect to be blown away by a huge chorus and orchestra, a ballet and beautiful music in this grandest of grand opera.



Backstage with the Buzz is written by Sheila Tepper, Producer Cultural Programming. Sheila has lived in the Larchmont area for fifty years, among her passions have been passing legislation for children with disabilities and interviewing outstanding artists appearing in the Los Angeles area.

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