Giuseppe Verdi


“Opera Santa Barbara presented a striking and moving Aida in Francesca Zambello’s stark, reinvigorating production; modern and post-Modernist elements slip into the contextual mix of this roughed-up, scaled-down aesthetic, which respected the integrity of the original while zooming forward to a present-tense tension and relevance. The chance-taking inventiveness pays off – this Aida was an opera experience among the stronger ever staged in town.” 
– Josef Woodard / Santa Barbara News-Press


“Opera Santa Barbara premiered Aida in a performance that will beautifully color memories for years to come. This fresh take on Giuseppe Verdi’s masterwork offered new insights; Zambello’s production dispenses with the elephants and plays decidedly against the ‘grand opera’ tradition. The modern concept made for a production that was enthralling and unrelenting throughout, offering insights into the relevancy of opera as a dramatic art form today. The singing and acting was engaging, with a standout portrayal of Aida from Michelle Johnson. During the curtain call, the company received unbridled enthusiasm from patrons who appreciated this updated Aida.”
– Robert F. Adams / CASA Magazine


“Opera Santa Barbara’s newest production Aida really did start with a bang! The huge explosion on curtain up marked the introduction of an entirely new version of Verdi’s beloved production. Gone were the ancient Egyptian backdrops, replaced with machine guns, jeeps and a setting more akin to the recent Libyan revolution, with bullet strewn walls and bombed infrastructure. Francesca Zambello’s version of Aida concentrated on the romance rather than the spectacle to excellent effect under revival director Michael Rau. The three principals in the love triangle were perfect picks. This was a most marvelous production by any standard!”
– Richard Mineards | Montecito Journal


“In this musically satisfying and dramatically different production of Aida, another meaning is layered onto the tragic confluence of love and death. This fully loaded update cracked the seal separating the stage of grand opera and the streets of contemporary Egypt. Aida was wonderfully sung and acted by Michelle Johnson; Ta’u Pupu’a made an excellent Radamès and Catherine Martin was outstanding as Amneris, her urgency dissolving into devastating pathos in the final act.”
– Charles Donelan / Santa Barbara Independent


“Opera Santa Barbara didn’t have to stretch operatic truth terribly far to pluck images of Arab Spring in its apt new production of Aida. Opera Santa Barbara has put a lot on the line by selecting Francesca Zambello’s controversial new production; Michelle Johnson repeated her intensely dramatic Aida; Catherine Martin’s Amneris took on enough depth of feeling to ultimately, and unexpectedly, make her the standout of the performance.”
– Mark Swed / Los Angeles Times




Photos by David Bazemore


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Francesca Zambello


Valéry Ryvkin


Conductor / Carmen

Jan/Feb 2002


Conductor / The Barber of Seville

May 2001


Conductor / La traviata

December 2000


Conductor / La Cenerentola

Mar/Apr 2000


Conductor / Le nozze di Figaro

Jan/Feb 2000


Conductor /
Cavalleria Rusticana & Pagliacci

October 1999


Conductor / Madama Butterfly

May 1999


Conductor / Il trovatore

January 1999


Conductor / The Merry Widow

December 1998


Conductor / Don Pasquale

February 1998


Conductor / Così fan tutte

January 1998


Conductor / Tosca

September 1997


Conductor / Don Giovanni

January 1997


Conductor / La bohème

Nov/Dec 1996


Conductor / Carmen

August 1996


Conductor / La traviata

July 1995 (debut)


Artistic Director


Revival Director:

Michael Rau


Eric Sean Fogel

Chorus Master:

Brent Wilson


Conductor / The Consul

April 2014 (debut)


Assistant Conductor & Chorus Master


Scenic Designer:

Lee Savage

Lighting Designer:

Eric Southern

Costume Designer:

Bibhu Mohapatra

Hair & Makeup Designer:

Heather Sterling

Heather Sterling is an accomplished makeup artist and hair stylist with a wide range of experience that includes work in theater, film, print, and fashion. She is a licensed cosmetologist and has a degree in fine art with an emphasis in psychology. Armed with an extensive knowledge of period makeup and hairstyles, Heather first designed for Opera Santa Barbara in 2006 for the company's performances of Tosca; since then her work has been seen in nearly forty OSB productions. She regularly designs for the Music Academy of the West's summer operas and she recently designed for the Granada Theatre's A Christmas Carol.


Hair & Makeup Designer / Tosca

February 2006 (debut)

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Michelle Johnson


Aida / Aida

March 2013 (debut)


Ta'u Pupu'a


Radamès / Aida

March 2013 (debut)


Catherine Martin


Maddelena / Rigoletto

November 2014


Amneris / Aida

March 2013 (debut)


Norman Garrett


Amonasro/ Aida

March 2013 (debut)


Kevin Thompson


Commendatore / Don Giovanni

November 2015


Sparafucile / Rigoletto

November 2014


Ramfis / Aida

March 2013 (debut)

The King:

Christopher Remmel

A Messenger:

Matthew Edwardsen

High Priestess:

Reyna Carguill

Aida 2013; David Bazemore Photo