Rimrock Opera Company’s performance of “Aida” Saturday night was stunning visually and musically, a fitting farewell for longtime artistic director Douglas Nagel.
The production sold out several days before the performance at the Alberta Bair Theater, a reminder that Billings supports opera. Nagel, who is retiring from his post at the ROC after helping produce 22 operas, leaves next week to teach in China and will continue teaching voice at Montana State University Billings in the fall. A reception was held for Nagel after the production.
For “Aida,” Nagel served as director of the chorus, which at 55 members was the largest ever assembled for an ROC opera. Everything about the Verdi production was over the top, from the gold and bronze backdrops depicting Egyptian temples and pyramids to the live animals on stage, including an owl, black swan, and a ball python, to the innovative dance choreography by Krista Marshall, of Terpsichore Dance Company. But it was the strength of the vocals of soprano Andrea Garritano in the title role and tenor Christopher Bengochea as her lover Radames that made this production shine.
Bengochea, a Montana native who studied voice at Montana State University and the University of Montana, brought emotion and passion to his performance as a warrior torn between his love of country and of Aida. Garritano, who one audience members said can make you melt with a single note, lives in Emporia, Kan. She stepped in only two months ago after the original soprano, Amy Logan, had to drop out due to medical reasons.
The production opened with three dancers silhouetted in a soft blue light and framed by arches and brocade curtains. The opulence of the scene where the dancers are joined by the Egyptian King, played by Darren Small, sets the tone for the production. It is that pairing of beauty and personal tragedy that make the plot and the music so compelling. Director Matthew Haney brings a fresh vision to the stage and conductor Barbara Day Turner uses her vast opera and musical theater experience to bring Verdi’s sweeping score to life. And to Nagel, a final bravo!