Without “Aida” in its repertory, no opera company can long endure. Verdi’s pyramidal blockbuster is the supreme entertainment package: stage spectacle, soaring tunes (including a grand, soggy weep as the lovers expire), the basic love-vs.-honor plot writ large — this is why they invented opera in the first place. The current L.A. Opera production, not exactly new, shows its tatters here and there, but the package remains integral.
The production dates from 1987, when it served to inaugurate Houston’s brand-new Wortham Opera Center, a stage shapelier and more intimate than that of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
In Los Angeles, the verticals of Pier-Luigi Pizzi’s designs sometimes create spectacles reminiscent of subway stations or bank lobbies. Stage director Vera Calabria has dispensed with some of Pizzi’s more bizarre pseudo-Egyptian props to the production’s overall betterment. More details — a mock battle between life-size plastic elephants during the Triumphal Scene, say — might also happily be dispensed with if the production has a future. That’s an arguable point, by the way.
Moving and eloquent (even in late pregnancy), debuting soprano Michele Crider won hearts in the title role with top notes of crystalline clarity. As her hapless lover Radames, Franco Farina also came on with an array of impressive top notes, loud and louder no matter what Verdi’s score might demand.
Louder yet, however — and electrically impressive — was the Amonasro of Lado Ataneli. As the love-thwarted Amneris, Irina Mishura seemed wrapped in a show of her own, the bitch-villainess from some silent (but hardly silent) melodrama of times gone by.
Also new to the company, schoolboyish, Israeli-born conductor Dan Ettinger, 34, shaped a propulsive, nicely shaded performance that benefited considerably from its presentation with only a single intermission instead of the called-for three.
The next step in the direction of coherence may be for someone with an editor’s pencil to restudy the interminable sequence of ballet numbers that stops the drama cold in the so-called Triumphal Scene, marks time with a series of acrobat numbers (impressive in Peggy Hickey’s choreography, to be sure) and fills the hall with the only second-rate music of the long evening. Verdi deserves better.