Review by: Robert Levine
Artistic Quality: 5
Sound Quality: 9
This utterly traditional, beautiful-looking, stunningly-lit (by Guido Levi) Aida is both emotionally empty and a B-minus “sing”. Mauro Carosi’s sets and costumes are lavish, with blues and gold pervading; huge temples, looking like Luxor’s, covered with hieroglyphics and columns and gates galore may not be an original concept, but it all looks wonderful. I’m not sure why the Egyptians have blue skin (a cross between Mel Gibson’s cornflower blue in Braveheart and the lighter blue in Avatar) but it’s an oddly affecting touch. The costumes are confusing in their refusal to adhere to a period, but it’s all very fantasy-land in a popular, expensive-looking way.
Joseph Franconi Lee is the stage director, and aside from opening each act with supernumeraries handsomely frozen in place, I cannot find an original notion. During the Triumphal Scene the hordes have two places from which to enter—the wings or the sea at the rear of the stage. I suspect the soloists have been left on their own to stretch their arms outward (and occasionally upward), with enough lurching from the principals and stiff-legged gesticulating from priests and royalty to satisfy opera lovers who were at the world premiere in Cairo. The finale to Act 3, which finds Radames and Aida betrayed, Amonasro screaming like a fanatic, and Amneris outraged, manages to be boring.
The conducting of Antonino Fogliani is strangely soft-edged, and he gives in too often to his singers’ weak points. Walter Fraccaro’s Radames sets the overall, disappointing tone: not a bad sound, but blurted out insensitively and to the gallery (who are not so pleased, by the way), with no shading, and this type of delivery continues throughout. The occasional attempt at something below forte is paltry and clumsy. Attractive Susanna Branchini has a real Aida voice, of good size and color and plenty of temperament, but she shines only in the big moments and misses out on the introspective ones. She looks nervous when she has to sing “dolce” and her acting is silent-movie-ish as well.
Mariana Pentcheva’s Amneris is a proper bully but she pushes her rich mezzo into a wobble in the fourth act and looks embarrassed by her costume. Alberto Gazale sings Amonasro with passion and almost the right Verdian sound. George Andguladze’s High Priest bellows and Carlo Malinverno is not kingly enough. The orchestra and chorus play and sing with amazingly smooth tone, but the entire musical outlook requires more verve than the leadership allows.
If you are looking for a good Aida on DVD, you have a couple of choices. Though none is perfect, the best is actually an old black-and-white performance on Hardy with Leyla Gencer, Carlo Bergonzi, and Fiorenza Cossotto from Verona—“stagey” acting, but spectacular music-making; if you want/need color and “hi-fi”, go to the Met’s under James Levine with Aprile Millo and Placido Domingo.
Buy Now from Arkiv Music
Recording Details:Reference Recording: Gencer/Bergonzi (Hardy); Millo/Domingo (DG)
- VERDI, GIUSEPPE:Aida