Since Detroit Opera Artistic Director Yuval Sharon arrived in Detroit in 2020, he’s been turning opera on its head in, what some might call, a very unconventional way. He’s taken the opera from the stage out into the streets, performing for the community on escalators and in warehouses, train stations, parking structures and several other unexpected places.
Now Sharon takes on an even greater challenge: bringing back one of the most famous operas, “Aida,” after nearly a decade for a one-night only concert performance at the Detroit Opera. The Detroit Opera will perform Aida in Concert, conducted by Jonathan Heyward and featuring Angel Blue as Aida, at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 30.
For One Detroit, WRCJ radio host Cecelia Sharpe sat down with Sharon ahead of the one-night only performance to talk about what people can expect from Aida in Concert, the fresh take he’s brought to opera in the modern day, and what’s on the horizon for the Detroit Opera in 2023.
Cecelia Sharpe, Host, WRCJ 90.0 FM: You are here to talk about “Aida”, which is coming up on December 30th. Talk about how “Aida” came about because it’s been almost a decade since it’s been presented.
Yuval Sharon, Artistic Director, Detroit Opera: Yes. You know, when I plan the season, I try to create a journey for the audience, which needs to include, I think, some of the real masterpieces of the genre. And “Aida” is, of course, one of the most popular operas in the history of opera. Now, it’s also usually a very expensive opera to mount. Most people hear the word Aida and they think how many elephants are going to be on the stage because there’s this big triumphant march scene in Act Two where most opera companies pull out all the stops with a bunch of different props. And, you know, there’s a lot to it, normally, there’s a lot of pageantry to it.
But I will say that in my overall mission for the opera to invite the audience to think differently, even about the classic masterworks, I thought that presenting this piece in concert was a great way to actually remove some of those assumptions about “Aida”, because a lot of that pageantry, I think now we look at quite differently. Because what’s happening is quite literally enslaved people are coming onto the stage and in a less critical production, this can feel like an exploitative act, right? Or it could be images that really trigger some really negative reactions in our audience. Especially when it’s just presented with no commentary.
And I think that actually, that’s really detrimental to what Aida’s actually about and who Verdi, the composer, what he really stood for. He wrote this fairly late in his career. It’s one of his last operas. And at that point, he was, you know, he saw Italy reunified. He was even a senator for his town. What he was really after was not a kind of song for the empire, which is sometimes how “Aida” can come across. It can really seem like it is celebrating victory and war and all of these quite negative things. But actually, it’s quite an intimate opera that is fundamentally about individual freedom and how that individual freedom tends to get suffocated under the weight of an oppressive regime. It’s a strong political statement that he made, and that doesn’t always come across in Aida because of all the pageantry.
Cecelia Sharpe: What can the audience expect in this one-night-only performance of “Aida” in concert?
Yuval Sharon: The audience, I think, has total freedom in this concert because there’s no scenery for this production. It will just be the concert presentation of the entire score of “Aida” from beginning to end. So, we still get to tell you the story of “Aida”, but the theatrical parts get to be completely in your own mind. Another key element of this was my partner at Detroit Opera, the associate artistic director, Christine Goerke, you know, she is one of the great sopranos of our day, and we work very closely.
She’s quite close friends with Angel Blue. And she’s the reason Angel has agreed to do this is because of her friendship with Christine and thinking what would they like to do together? So Angel is doing Aida for the first time and Christine is doing Amneris, the rival to Aida, also for the very first time. So, this is an exciting role debut for both of these incredible artists, one of whom is a key member of the artistic team for Detroit Opera. So, I think that’s going to be thrilling.
Cecelia Sharpe: So, where can people get more information about this concert?
Yuval Sharon: Our website has all the up-to-date information, including tickets, time, and all of that. It’s, Detroitopera.org. And if you visit that, you can also see what’s coming after “Aida”. There are two coming up that I’m really looking forward to this season. There is Handel’s Opera “Xerxes”, which is the first time the Detroit Opera has ever done this opera.
Cecelia Sharpe: And what’s the second piece?
Yuval Sharon: The second piece is a contemporary piece called, “Fountain of Tears” by the Argentinean composer Osvaldo Golijov, in a production by the Brazilian choreographer Deborah Colker, which first opened at the Scottish Opera and marks Detroit Opera’s first international collaboration. So we’re very excited about that.
Cecelia Sharpe: So, Yuval, what is next for the future of the Detroit Opera?
Yuval Sharon: I’d like to think that we are on a journey as a community with opera and understanding why opera can be specific to Detroit. I really am trying to take this audience, and everyone who is even curious about opera, on a journey that helps them understand why opera is not an art form of the past, but it’s an emerging art form. And I’d like to see us continue that.
I think over the next few years, probably be a similar mix of classic stories told with a new perspective, and also, brand new pieces that are given the kind of masterwork treatment like, “X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X” that we did this past spring, which was such an exciting and groundbreaking work for us to do. And really building on that and looking for me, the more that I’m here in Detroit, the more I’m looking to connect with this community and see what stories, what singers and what directors, what conductors really resonate with, what makes Detroit, Detroit.
Cecelia Sharpe: What advice do you have for those who aren’t really ready to accept these new perspectives?
Yuval Sharon: I would say first, the advice I would say is, come with an open mind. You might be surprised. There’s always something new that can be discovered. So, I think that’s the first thing. And the second thing is actually this concert of “Aida” is a perfect response to people who maybe didn’t like certain aspects of how we did one production or another. This is a chance where the music is front and center and where nothing can distract you from just appreciating the best singers in the world right now doing such great music.
Cecelia Sharpe: Yuval, thank you so much for all that you have done and continue to do for opera, especially here in Detroit.
Yuval Sharon: Thank you.
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