In celebrating 20 years of bringing opera alive to Pikes Peak region audiences, the nonprofit Opera Theatre of the Rockies will stage one of the world's most beloved operas.
"Aida" by Giuseppe Verdi will be the first opera performed in the Shockley-Zalabak Theater in the Ent Center for the Arts. It runs Thursday through Sunday, the 36th opera performed by Opera Theatre.
Set in Egypt during the Pharaoh's reign, the opera tells the story of warrior Radames and his forbidden love for enslaved Ethiopian Princess Aida, who is torn between her love for him and her devotion to her country.
Playing Aida and Radames are New Yorkers Marsha Thompson and Ta'u Pupu'a. Thompson, who started her musical career as a professional violinist, played Aida previously in Franco Zeffirelli's production in Milan. Pupu'a, a tenor, has performed the role of Radames before too. His entry into opera was unusual: He was a defensive end for the Cleveland Browns and later the Baltimore Ravens before injuries to his feet cut his football career short. After years of training and studying at the Juilliard Opera Center, he now travels the world performing opera.
Both are visiting Colorado Springs for two weeks, including rehearsals and performances. Along with the opera's six other principals and seven supers, they were hand-picked by Martile Rowland, Opera Theatre's artistic director and producer.
"I find opera and football to have similarities," Pupu'a said. "We all perform on some kind of stage."
"And the high notes are the touchdowns," added Thompson, a soprano. She described singing opera as an addiction.
The Colorado Springs altitude has been a challenge for both singers, who are accustomed to performing at sea level. Canned oxygen has helped.
"You just have to trust the vocal mechanism and the body to come through," Thompson said.
The crowd-pleasing "Aida" is "a great opera for first-time operagoers, and a familiar story," she said. "I would say, come with an open heart and an open mind and be willing to sit back and allow the music and the visual aspects to envelop you. And enjoy the ride."
It's also a story beloved by longtime opera fans. "It has all the everyday emotions - love, hatred, jealousy, passion and war - so people can relate to it," Pupu'a said. "I love to take people on a musical journey, especially those who've never been to an opera. To give them this experience, we're ultimately saying, 'From my soul to your soul.'"
About 170 people could be on the stage at any part of the production, Rowland said. One hundred members of the Colorado Springs Chorale and 52 members of the Bee Vradenburg Opera Orchestra will perform with the cast.
MICHELLE KARAS, THE GAZETTE, 476-1602, MICHELLE.KARAS@GAZETTE.COM