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CD Review

Giuseppe Verdi

Unitel Classica Blu-ray 732304

Aïda

  • Aïda - Kristin Lewis
  • Radamès - Fabio Sartori
  • Amneris - Anita Rachvelishvili
  • Il re d'Egitto - Carlo Colombara
  • Ramfis - Matti Salminen
  • Amonasro - George Gagnidze
  • Una sacerdotessa - Chiara Isotton
  • Un messagero - Azer Rza-Zada
Milan Teatro alla Scala Chorus
Teatro alla Scala Orchestra/Zubin Mehta
Stage Director - Peter Stein
Set Designer - Ferdinand Wögerbauer
Costume Designer - Nana Cecchi
Lighting Designer - Joachim Barth
Choreography - Massimiliano Volpini
Recorded live at the Teatro alla Scala, February 21, 2015
C Major/Unitel Classica Blu-ray 732304 151m LPCM Stereo DTS-HD Master Audio
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Also available on DVD 732208: Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan - ArkivMusic - JPC

This new Aïda from La Scala has a lot going for it: its strengths include the conducting of Zubin Mehta, who draws excellent performances from the orchestra and chorus, and phrases the music with subtlety and great sensitivity to the emotional and dramatic flow of Verdi's masterpiece. The singers are good too, especially Anita Rachvelishvili as Amneris. Try her passionate and utterly thrilling singing in the final act numbers L'aborrita rivale a me sfuggia and Già i sacerdoti adunansi, as well as in the two numbers in the scene that follows. Kristin Lewis makes a fine Aïda, though dramatically she may be a little too grim-faced at times. She has a beautiful voice and great talent and seems to get stronger as the performance progresses. Early on she's a little underpowered: in the ensemble piece Vieni, o diletta, appressati, she allows herself to get a bit overwhelmed in places by the other singers. But this is not a major flaw as her voice has plenty of power most of the time, her overall performance fairly impressive. Fabio Sartori is also quite good as Radamès – good, but not great. Try his well-sung but slightly tepid version of Celeste Aïda, where the expected applause at the end never comes from the audience. Still, he comes across effectively and doesn't really have a bad moment. Matti Salminen, Carlo Colombara, George Gagnidze and the other cast members turn in fine work in their respective roles.

Peter Stein's production is excellent. His more intimate, less bombastic and less militaristic approach is subtle and almost unique, for once allowing the viewer to focus on the human side of the drama, on its love story and its torn loyalties. Costuming is traditional, though the attire and head wear worn by the priests and some of the royalty have a somewhat futuristic look. Indeed, and the sets also feature that same sort of space-age character: no grand colonnades, splashy palaces or regal drapery here; instead, we see lots of black against white contrasts from the stage, with bright light streaming out of entrance ways surrounded by darkness. Even the big scene in the latter half of Act II that features the Triumphal March is visually scaled downed, with a rather modest procession against the backdrop of a high gilded wall that stands at the center of the stage, with the King and attendants seated amid light that is encroached upon by that seemingly ever-present darkness. Actually, darkness dominates some of the proceedings, but in those instances the sparing use of various colors and degrees of light is always subtle and strongly atmospheric. As for the choreography, it is appropriate and tasteful, if modest.

From a technological point of view this new Aïda is nearly flawless, as its camera work, picture clarity and sound reproduction are all excellent, all quite state-of-the-art. I've reviewed four other video discs of Aïda here at Classical Net: a Unitel Classica/C Major production from Parma featuring Susanna Branchini as Aïda and Walter Fraccaro as Radamès (Blu-ray 724904); a BBC Opus Arte DVD with Daniela Dessi in the title role (OA0894D); a Franco Zeffirelli-directed production on TDK with Adina Aaron in the title role (DVUS-AIDDBM); and a EuroArts DVD with relatively little known cast members in a lavish production (2054058 ). The first of these was the most recent (2013) and featured excellent production values but inconsistent singing, while the BBC Opus Arte and the Euroarts were fine but surpassed by the Zeffirelli production on TDK. This La Scala Aïda must be regarded as a strong contender for the best among this sizable crop. It is certainly one of the better versions of Aïda on video, especially if you're looking for a new and imaginative approach to this great Verdi opera. The aforementioned Zeffirelli-directed effort on TDK is also excellent in its more traditional and epic character. For Verdi mavens, both are fine, rather complementary performances that are arguably essential.

Copyright © 2016, Robert Cummings

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