3.5 stars

UMMTA’s Aida is an entertaining night out and was very well received by the audience.

Director Grace Agnew has done some great work with this talented cast. It was wonderful to see each person on stage being in the moment at all times. Agnew utilized a somewhat stylized approach to her direction, and it was sustained throughout. Some choices did, however, detract from the drama – for example, having lead characters moving through dead patches of light, and positioning actors so sight lines for the audience were compromised. Emmalee Meisels had some great choreographic ideas and concepts, but they were not conveyed to full effect, because the cast’s execution of Meisels’ work lacked precision and synchronization.

Anthony Cardamone led a tight sounding eleven-piece band. As the eleventh player, he is to be commended for his solid music direction while playing french horn. Evident in the performance of the music are the many hours Cardamone has put in with the cast. For the most part, this hard work was highlighted through the sound design of David Kelly, but there were moments of both song and dialogue that were lost to poor balance. Lighting design by Blake Condon worked very well with the set design by Tom Fellowes. The river scene, where the women were washing clothes in the Nile, was a stunning backdrop and it came to life with Condon’s lighting.

The costuming for Aida was designed by Airlie Brett, and she used some gorgeous pieces, one being Amneris’ blue and gold dress which brought to mind the famous bust of Nefertiti. However, the costume plot was a little confusing, as the ancient Egypt section of the production used a combination of modern pants and jackets for the soldiers, period-style slave dresses for the Nubians, contemporary-style evening dresses for Amneris and her fellow fashionistas, and stylised period wedding wear for Radames and Amneris. There was also inconsistency in the representation of status – all Egyptians were wearing shoes and all Nubians went barefoot, so it didn’t follow that when the Pharoah was pronouncing the death sentence upon Aida and Radames that he was barefoot.

Sarah Calsiña's performance in the title role was always engaging and moved the audience. Her vocal delivery was strong throughout, although at times of high dramatic intensity the tone was sometimes pushed out of tune.  Calsiña's onstage chemistry with her Radames  (Joseph Spanti) was nothing short of electric. Spanti gave an assured portrayal of Radames, imbuing him with the right combination of authority with his soldiers, and vulnerable confusion as his feelings for Aida took over. His voice was very well suited to the style of the show and to Radadmes’ melodies.

In the role of Amneris, Grace Kingsford displayed great comic timing, and brought just the right level of sass. Her rendition of “Every Story is a Love Story” was delivered with the poise befitting a princess, but a little more power at the bottom of the character’s written range would have been welcomed.

Special mention must go to two of the supporting cast members – Pasquale Bartalotta, as the ever-ingratiating Mereb, gave the audience many giggles, and Elle Richards’s Nehebka was beautifully sung.

The stand-out for the evening was the vocal work of the ensemble. “Dance of the Robes” was a beautiful blend of harmonies, which were confidently sung with great emotional intensity. It was the highlight of the show. So strong was that performance that interval could have been inserted after the song, leaving the house with the powerful image of the Nubians proudly carrying the Princess Aida offstage.

UMMTA’s Aida was an entertaining night out and was very well received by the audience. The season runs through until Saturday September 27th.

For tickets, please visit http://chook.as/ummta/aida