Opera baritone relishes brief role as Aida’s father

This image released by The Metropolitan Opera shows Quinn Kelsey and Anna Netrebko during a performance of “Aida,” conducted by Nicola Luisotti, in New York. (Marty Sohl/The Metropolitan Opera via AP)

NEW YORK (AP) — Quinn Kelsey’s character doesn’t even arrive until late in Act 2 of “Aida,” and he’s killed shortly after the end of Act 3. Yet in his brief time onstage he turns the drama on its head.

“My part definitely puts a nice little wrench into things,” said the Hawaiian baritone, who is appearing at the Metropolitan Opera in a revival of Verdi’s opera. The production will be the first live in HD broadcast of the 2018-19 season, shown in movie theaters around the world on Saturday.

Kelsey is Amonasro, the Ethiopian king whose people have been conquered by the Egyptians and whose daughter Aida has been enslaved. The story at first seems to be a simple love triangle involving Aida, the warrior Radames and the jealous princess Amneris. But Amonasro thickens the plot when he insists Aida persuade her lover to betray a military secret.

“I have to balance being the loving, concerned parent with the fact that I have this ulterior motive,” he said. “I’m basically trying to do what any ruler of a people would do.”

In their third-act scene together Amonasro starts out tenderly but grows angry when Aida resists, denouncing her and even throwing her to the ground.

“His emotions just take over, so that’s when you see the beast come out,” Kelsey said. “It’s great. Verdi writes all the fire right into that part when he flies off the handle.”

LEAVE THEM WANTING MORE

Though Amonasro is one of the shortest of the major Verdi roles, its vocal and dramatic range has attracted most of the great baritones over the years.

Critic Eric C. Simpson, writing on The Classical Review website, said hearing Kelsey in the part “felt like a real luxury,” and praised his “enormous, rich-toned voice” with “a smooth, comforting warmth that can suddenly transition to seething anger.”

Does Kelsey ever wish Verdi had made the role bigger?

“I think it’s a good thing to leave the audience wanting more,” he said, then added with a chuckle: “But my dad did tell me, ‘You really need a big aria in Act 4.'”

Kelsey, 40, made his Met debut a decade ago in the supporting role of Schaunard in Puccini’s “La Boheme” and worked his way up to bigger assignments. This season he has a second HD performance in a new production of Verdi’s “La Traviata,” in which he again plays an interfering father. And he has engagements lined up for years ahead.

“I feel I’ve definitely arrived,” he said. “I’m happy they’re happy to have me back.”

FEUDING FEMALES

Critics also heaped praise on the two women who are rivals for the love of Radames: Aida (sung by soprano Anna Netrebko) and Amneris (sung by mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili).

The same two singers will also square off in another deadly romantic competition later this season in a different opera, Cilea’s “Adriana Lecouvreur,” which is also part of the HD series.

WHERE TO SEE IT

“Aida,” conducted by Nicola Luisotti and also starring tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko as Radames, bass Dmitry Belosselskiy as the high priest Ramfis and bass Ryan Speedo Green as the Egyptian king, will be shown Saturday. A list of theaters can be found at the Met’s website: https://www.metopera.org. In the United States it will be repeated on Oct. 10, with encore showings in Canada on Nov. 3, 5, 7 and 11.

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