Soloists Joohee Choi (left) with opera fans Milan Panic and Milena Kitic at the Music Center. Photo courtesy of Lee Salem Photography


Media mogul Michael Eisner and wife Jane were among the music lovers who gathered at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to check out the opening night of one of the opera world’s grandest productions, “Aida.” Things were hopping at the Founder’s Room for pre-performance festivities with talk of melodies…and medicine.

One guest glowed to Mister E. that his ticker was beating in perfect harmony. “Thanks so much for the free test,” he said, referring to the heart exam Eisner has underwritten for folks at Cedars Sinai. It an expression of appreciation he’s heard many times before. “You know,” Esiner mused, “I get more compliments on that test than any movie I’ve made.”

Soon, it was time to cut short the small talk because the big event was about to begin. As the lights flickered, we headed for our seats and prepared for a journey into ancient Egypt. Yes, these productions come in all shapes and sizes but let’s face it, when it comes to opera, there’s the everyday and then there’s “Aida.”

Nothing quite matches a spectacle of this scale. Verdi’s classic extravaganza has it all-epic battle scenes, dramatic sets, extravagant costumes, massive choral numbers, exotic beauties, epic love, history, mystery and intrigue.

Of course the Los Angeles version wasn’t quite as ambitious as the opera’s 1871 world premiere in Cairo, which featured 12 live elephants. Then there was the 2000 Shanghai number, which had camels, lions, tigers, snakes and horses, and 3,000 performers parading across the stage. But the Los Angeles edition was a feast for the eyes and a delight for the ears all the same.

Even without the presence of real pachyderms, this million-dollar production was a sight to behold. Amid glorious Egyptian statuary, towering columns and silhouetted palms, the performance featured a 72-person chorus, eight soloists, 21 dancers, 22 actors and 83 musicians, plus countless costume changes.

“Aida” follows the story of an Ethiopian princess who is enslaved by her Egyptian counterpart, the beautiful Amneris. The two vie for the affection of the great warrior Radames, but his heart belongs to Aida. When Radames returns from battle triumphant, he seeks freedom for his beloved Aida as his reward. Soon loyalties are torn, clandestine meetings are arranged, military secrets are divulged, untimely ends are met and the entombed lovers ultimately bid the world adieu.

Despite being eight months pregnant, soloist Michele Crider managed to belt out the lead arias with ease. Crider has become one of the most celebrated Aidas around, winning rave reviews for her recent performances in Berlin, Brussels and Dresden.

Franco Farina played the part of Radames and Irina Mishura took on the role of Amneris.

As the curtain fell on the final scene, the crowd piped in with a chorus of bravos and made its way to the post-performance party upstairs. No Mickey Mouse production, it was easy to see why “Aida” guarantees a smile on either side of the Nile.