This is the third Aida I've reviewed here since September, 2004. The other two were the Opus Arte version with Daniela Dessì as Aida and the EuroArts with Eszter Sümegi in the title role. Both were good, but this one, not surprisingly, is better. I say 'not surprisingly' because it is the product of the ever-dependable Franco Zeffirelli. I would normally write that the cast here is headed by a group of unknown singers in their mid-twenties. At the time the recording was made (January 27, 2001) that statement would have been true, but this trio of singers has since attracted quite a lot of attention.
The two female leads, Adina Aaron and Kate Aldrich, are excellent and must be assessed as major international talents. Try Aaron's Act III Qui Radames verra – it's stunning, or Aldrich in her heart-wrenching Act IV Ohimè! Morrir mi sento! Scott Piper is also splendid, perhaps just a shade less compelling. The rest of the cast turn in fine work, as do conductor Stefanelli and the Toscanini orchestra and chorus. Zeffirelli's production is a fairly traditional one, though he seems a bit hampered by the smallness of the stage in the Verdi Theater in Busseto, Italy. Still, it is excellent visually and places this in competition with the finest of the dozen or so Aidas on DVD. By the way, Carlo Bergonzi, the great now-retired tenor, is listed in the credits as artistic director of the chorus, but he also coached the singers here.
The sound reproduction and camera work are excellent. Quite simply, this is one of the more impressive opera DVDs to be issued in recent years. I'm not sure what took TDK so long to issue it – it was released in late-2006 – but I'm thankful to finally have gotten this recording. For now, this will be the Aida I watch. Highly recommended.
This Tannhäuser is perhaps just as compelling a performance in its own quite different milieu. It comes from a 1989 Bayreuth Festival performance and is directed by the composer's grandson Wolfgang. Funny, but I'm a little surprised that he presided, apparently willingly, over this slightly shortened version: the overture is cut and the ensuing Venusberg ballet is removed altogether. Eliminating the latter is acceptable – maybe even preferable – but I'm not sure pruning the overture is such a good idea. Anyway, the rest of the score is intact and delivered compellingly by all parties concerned.
Richard Versalle makes a fine Tannhäuser. It turns out he was literally a last-minute substitute for René Kollo for the 1984 première of this production. He was kept on for subsequent Bayreuth Tannhäusers and it is easy to see why. He may not have been a big name but he possesses that heroic Wagnerian tenor sound and has the necessary dramatic skills to match. Cheryl Studer is excellent, too, and the rest of the cast are all convincing at the very least. Wolfgang Brendel and Hans Sotin are among them and must be singled out for their fine work.
Sinopoli, as usual, draws spirited playing from the orchestra; the chorus, ever so crucial to any performance of this work, is simply splendid. The stage direction and sets, barren though they are, are quite atmospheric and fairly traditional visually. The camera work is fine and the sound excellent, especially considering its nearly two-decade-old origins. Strongly recommended.
Copyright © 2007, Robert Cummings