Guiseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
AIDA opera in four acts (Recorded at La Scala, Milan in 1985)
The King of Egypt
Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro Alla Scala conducted by Lorin Maazel.
ARTHAUS MUSIK 100 058
This 1985 La Scala performance of Aida is a triumph. The long-awaited performance
of Luciano Pavarotti as Radames - his first in Italy - was greeted with rapturous
applause by the audience, his first aria, the often-recorded 'Celeste Aida',
was feted with a full two-minute ovation. His singing ranges triumphantly
from his early passionate, patriotic arias, through to his torn and tormented
third 'Nile' Act duet in which he tries, in vain, to resist Aida's plea to
flee his country, through to his adamant, yet poignant resistance of Amneris
at the end of the opera.
Maria Chiara is equally impressive in the title role she is passionate, loving,
self-confident yet torn by conflicting loyalties. Her Act III aria as she
sings of her love and fond remembrances of her homeland, with that tricky
high C, earned her a thunderous ovation and her last radiant duet with Radames
is heart-rending. Ghena Dimitrova's Amneris is totally convincing too; you
can readily sympathise with her jealousy, softened by her unshaking love
in risking her position as a royal princess to save Radames from a horrible
death (a pity about that headdress though). Juan Pons and Nicolai Ghiarov
both bring mighty voices to their roles. In fact the singing overall is of
an exemplary standard and difficult to flaw.
The production is sumptuous. The whole of Act II is a feast for the eye and
ear. Commencing with the lilting love song "Chi mai fra gl'inni e i plausi"
sung by Amneris and her slaves as she dresses, and the exhilarating slave
boys dance; through to the grand spectacle which is the Triumphal March and
Ballet. Here the gigantic moving sets are stunning only a shaky carriage
drawing Amneris in her spectacular gold plumage costume tends to spoil the
illusion. Maazel delivers a majestic performance of Verdi's thrilling music.
The concluding fine ensemble singing of Aida, Radames, Amonasro, Amneris
and Ramfis in determining the fate of the captured slaves and the King's
joining of the reluctant Radames with Amneris thrills too.
But Peter Grahame Woolf is not so sure
I am unable to enthuse about this, my first DVD. It is a 1986 Radiotelevisione
Italiana recording of a live performance at Teatro alla Scala, Milan, complete
with applause and bows after items and a prolonged enthusiastic response
at the end. The production is highly traditional and the settings grandiose
and costly. The spectacle would have been impressive in the opera house but
it doesn't work at home. There are dances, with tasteful swaying movements,
and the costumes are lavish and eye-catching (apart from the under-dressed
soldiers detailed to guard their prisoner, Radames). The acting is rudimentary
and bedevilled by close-up exposure, which destroys all illusion or even
a sense of theatre. The voices too are close up and Pavarotti,
a formidable figure indeed, sings forte most of the time. The final
scene is ludicrous; the fugitive Aida returns to share death in her full
regalia and the picture here [left]is of the
couple in their death throes, immured in the tomb and seen shortly before
expiring. It was hard to feel that lack of food or air would figure for a
very long time in the vast dungeon built on the Scala's stage. Amneris, in
her remorse for their fate, was shown high above in a postage-stamp size
I was quite unable to raise any emotional response, even to the Nile Scene,
a long-time favourite. I returned afterwards to listen to some tracks from
Aida in 1924 recordings [Nimbus Prima Voce
7903] by the distinguished soprano Elisabeth Rethberg, who was
described as having portrayed at Covent Garden 'a real, not an operatic
personality' - in a different class!
Sound and picture quality are good but not especially remarkable. There are
no track ('chapter') timings. Very disappointing and certainly unrepresentative
of what DVD has to offer. No star rating attempted.
Peter Grahame Woolf