by Steven Pisano
Now wrapping up its 48th season, the Regina Opera company in Brooklyn performs in the auditorium of a school, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Academy of Brooklyn, in Sunset Park. It is not a gold-encrusted palace of theater and music like the Metropolitan Opera or the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. The singers do not have exclusive recording contracts with major labels. The scenery is not bigger than the buildings in most small towns.
And yet...just off the busy 59th Street subway station of the N and R trains, the Regina Opera company is currently presenting a knockout production of Giuseppe Verdi's massive warhorse, Aida. There are no elephants, no legions of slaves, no massive life-size temples in the desert. But what there is is simple but effective staging, a lively orchestra, and above it all, uniformly glorious singing. It is a solid treat for the ears from beginning to end, and if you are an opera lover, or only a Verdi lover, it is well worth travelling to see it, as it only plays two weekends as part of the 2018 New York OperaFest.
The Regina Opera company was founded in 1970 by Marie Cantoni and her neighbor Nick Tierno, in the neighborhood of Dyker Heights. Cantoni was not a singer, but she knew singers who had nowhere to perform, and she figured that if she put on some Italian operas in a mostly Italian neighborhood, people would come. And she was right. The company has moved around Brooklyn several times until finding it's current home about five years ago. This production of Aida is dedicated to Cantoni's memory, as she passed away last October at age 86.
There are two casts, both of them excellent, though if I had to choose, I think a slight edge could be given to the cast that performs on May 13 and May 20, compared to the cast that performs on May 12 and May 19, if only because the performers act a little more demonstrably (hey, this is Brooklyn, where people talk with their hands!). Singing-wise, both casts are equal.
The story line is simple and timeless: There is a love triangle between an Egyptian soldier, the King's daughter, and an Ethiopian slave. True love wins out in the end, but it does not end pretty--unless you consider being buried alive in an Egyptian tomb to be a good way to die (even with your beloved at your side).
Aida, the slave, is performed alternately by Carami Hilaire and Dulara Unsal; her lover, Radames, an Egyptian warrior, is sung alternately by Jose Heredia and Paolo Buffagni; her father, Amonasro, is sung alternately by Peter Hakjoon Kim and David Robinson; the King of Egypt is sung alternately by David Tillistrand and Peter Ludwig; and the King's daughter, Amneris, is sung alternately by Lara Tillotson and Erica Koehring. There are also priests and priestesses and messengers and dancers as well as a small general ensemble.
The excellent orchestra is unexpectedly big and is conducted by Gregory Ortega.
The auditorium has extremely comfortable seating, and it is a very pleasant theater in which to watch a performance--especially one with three intermissions. Don't miss it!
For ticket availability, click here.
More photos can be found here.