A birthday ‘Aida’ for (and with) Richard Fredricks at Castle Green

by Monika Beal, Lister reviewer
It is not merely the instrument, but an artist’s spirit that communicates a story; it is fine tuned mastery of expression that reaches the hearts of listeners. And the audience at the concert production of Aida on Monday, August 15, 2016 enjoyed a culmination of life-long dedication to the craft of bel canto singing, in the retelling a timeless classic.
2016-08-15_Aida_cake_webWe have tenor Steve Grabe (on the right in the cast photo below) to thank for putting together this event: the idea to sing this Aida as a “casual read-through ‘round the piano” with his voice teacher, Richard Fredricks, turned into a delightful concert performance of Verdi’s classic in Pasadena’s historic Castle Green. It was a very happy birthday indeed for Mr. Fredricks, whose impressive career on stage and screen spans more than forty years. The evening featured the exemplary work of his vocal students, several of whom were featured among a uniformly superior cast, from title role to chorus.
The ‘Aida’ cast

Between Castle Green’s ornate salon and the balmy summer night’s breeze, Verdi’s timeless music was gifted with an added immediacy by the exquisite work of musical director and pianist Brian Farrell. The show opened with Greg Vorst’s billowing baritone voice, commanding as the Egyptian high priest, Ramphis. Steve Grabe, wearing multiple hats on this evening, gave us Radames, with the soaring high notes of a love-struck soldier eager to conquer in both love and battle, while Erin Murphy’s mezzo-soprano voice gave life to Amneris with a fearless strength.

The Grand Salon, before the performance
The Grand Salon, before the performance

In the title role, Laurice Simmons Kennel captured the anguish of princess-turned-slave, heart torn between duty to her people and the love for Radames. Meanwhile, Michael Margulies’ commanding bass leant the King of Egypt a regal presence. Rising above the mighty chorus singers, Dabney Ross Jones’ soprano voice rang clear and strong as the High Priestess, invoking Phta in act three. And of course, Richard Fredricks did not disappoint as Aida’s calculating father, Amonasro. A true highlight of the evening took place  through Amonasro and Aida’s father-daughter duet, between Mr. Fredricks and Ms. Simmons Kennel; an elegant vocal partnership with haunting foreshadowing of Aida’s sacrifice.  Overall, all participants in this Aida gave a wonderful, well-sung gift.

Bravi tutti, and a very happy birthday, Richard!

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