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Lavish ‘Aida’ Has Cast of 1,000 _ But No Elephants

September 12, 1996

SINGAPORE (AP) _ One of the world’s most lavish productions of the opera ``Aida″ has a cast of more than 1,000, a sphinx and a stage half the size of a football field _ but no elephants.

Wilhelmenia Fernandez sings the title role in Verdi’s tragedy of a slave princess in ancient Egypt in a $2.8 million international production that premieres tonight at Singapore’s national stadium.

Although traditionally extravagant staging elsewhere has included horses and even elephants, the only animals used in Singapore will be three pythons, two donkeys and a goat, said Elaine Au, a spokeswoman for the producers.

``We were planning to have horses,″ she said. ``It didn’t work out too well, because they weren’t used to the stage.″

What about elephants?

``No, simply because we have to make this authentic,″ Au said. ``There weren’t elephants in ancient Egypt.″

Instead, the producers plan to dazzle opera-goers with quality singers and a 1,050-member cast, including a 200-voice chorus, 60 trumpeters and hundreds of soldiers in loin cloths.

Commissioned in 1869 by the khedive of Egypt and premiered in Cairo, ``Aida″ tells the story of an Ethiopian princess enslaved by Egypt who loves the commander of the army of her conquerors.

Tenor Richard Margison sings the role of Radames, Aida’s secret lover, and mezzo Linda Finnie is Amneris, her rival for his affections.

The role of the Ethiopian king Amonasro, Aida’s father, is sung by baritone Barseg Tumanyan, while bass Viktor Shost is the Egyptian high priest Ramphis.

The 200-piece orchestra is conducted by Carlo Franci, who led a 1987 production on the banks of the Nile River. Musicians include the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and the Singapore Armed Forces Central Band.

The 2,600-square-yard stage, complete with a huge sphinx, is so large that the audience can be seated in only 7,000 of the national stadium’s 12,000 seats.

``It’s difficult for designers to do huge temples in Egypt on a normal stage,″ said executive producer Michael Coad.

``When you do it in a big theater like this, you’ve got the chance to resemble what the column sizes are and what the temples are. So it’s really an ideal opportunity to stage an opera of this grandeur.″

More than 90 percent of the 21,000 tickets for the three performances have been sold at prices ranging from $50 to $280, Au said.

After two more performances Friday and Saturday, the opera is to leave for Perth, Australia. Stops also are planned in New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, South Africa and South America. Producers say the opera will cost $2.8 million to stage in each city.

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