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Behind The Scenes: ‘Aida’

San Diego Opera’s Sunday Performance Already Sold Out

Evening Edition

Above: KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando goes backstage at San Diego Opera's "Aida."

The opera "Aida" (opening tomorrow night at the Civic Theater and running through April 28) gets a vibrant staging thanks in part to Del Mar resident and designer Zandra Rhodes. I'll take you backstage for the first rehearsal of San Diego Opera’s production.

We are stage left at the San Diego Opera at the Civic Theater," explains Ned W Krumrey, property master for the San Diego Opera, "We are preparing for what we call an orchestra dress rehearsal, this will be the singers, the supers, in their costumes, the orchestra in the pit, this is the first time all the elements will come together, lighting, sound…"

And costumes. Nearly 300 bold, vivid costumes by Zandra Rhodes.

"I didn’t realize how bold and vivid the costumes and sets would look until they’re exquisitely lit today," says scenic and costume designer Zandra Rhodes, "I have done it before but the lighting is looking extra special. I see Egypt, having been there in 1985, I did sketches and did drawings and the whole thing, it seemed to come to life, and I believe that the pyramids and all the carvings on the actual buildings were once probably very bright and vivid and so I it seemed ideal for gold lame and if you think Tutankamen’s tomb, everything’s very bright in there and gold and I think that I just felt it’s an expansion on the ideas that I’d seen drawn in the tombs."

Her vibrant palette inspires singers like Mark S. Doss.

"The colors then sort of accentuate the emotions because when I’m singing I sometimes use a palette that I have in my hands and I have sort of a fake brush and I see on that palette emotions, there’s anger, there’s the expression of surprise and all those things that I put on this canvas that I’m trying to draw the character so in this sense we have all these amazing colors and you can’t help but to try and be drawn into those colors and what they depict. As far as the opera story goes. Very exciting and much of a challenge as well."

"The challenge in opera," adds Rhodes, "is that it’s a magical experience, that you can’t have anywhere else, where you’ve got, it doesn’t have to be realistic."

Like a turquoise puppet elephant bringing home the conquering hero.

"Then the combination of the voices and the magic I never fail to be carried away by it," states Rhodes.

Which reminds Doss of his experience hearing Aida as an extra onstage in Cleveland.

"For me to see it that close and see the tenor [singing]. Wow! It’s right there I could almost touch it. This was very poignant so people seeing Aida for the first time they’ll get [all that] and then we have this duet with Aida and Amonasro that is so powerful, some people think it’s the best of all Verdi’s writing."

Bringing out the best is what prompted the San Diego Opera to invite Rhodes to design costumes in 1999. Her background had been as a textile and fashion designer. But her audacious sense of experimentation sometimes met with resistance.

"When I did 'The Pearl Fishers' first, we had one of the lead characters, who will remain nameless, who wouldn’t let me experiment and he wouldn’t try thing so he came out and he looked quite ordinary."

But there’s nothing ordinary about Rhodes work for the current production of “Aida” at the San Diego Opera. Maybe that’s why performances are quickly selling out. It’s a spectacle you can only appreciate from a seat inside the theater.

"Aida" will be simulcast on KPBS FM this Saturday night at 7:00pm.

Here is a list of operas on film.

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