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Recordings

Giuseppe Verdi: Aida
01 Mar 2012

Giuseppe Verdi: Aida

A perennial favorite among opera enthusiasts since its 1871 premiere in Cairo, Aida remains a popular work, and its strengths are apparent in the recent Decca DVD from the Metropolitan Opera, New York.

Roberto Scandiuzzi, Violeta Urmana, Johan Botha, Dolora Zajick, Metropolitan Opera Chorus, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Daniele Gatti, conductor.

Decca 001573609 [2DVDs] | 001601559 [Blu-ray]

$37.99 (DVD)  Click to buy

This video is based on the HD broadcast on 24 October 2009, which was released in this format in late 2011. With a cast including some of the finest performers currently available, this production of Aida merits attention.

At the core of this cast is Dolora Zajick as Amneris, the Egyptian princess at the center of the love triangle that includes Aida and Radames. Zajick makes her character memorable, with the unrequited passion motivating both her acting and, more importantly, the musical qualities. This is evident from the opening scene, with the exchange between Amneris and Radames effective (disc 1, band 5). Yet the scene in Amneris’s chambers in act two (disc 1, bands 13-16) offers a more intensive portrait of the Egyptian princess, which Zajick delivers with élan. Here Violetta Urmana allows the conflicts in her character's situation to emerge, as the love for Radames betrays the loyalty to her homeland, and any disobedience to her mistress Amneris intensifies the risks she faces. As impressive as Urmana is in the first part of the opera, her scena in Act 3 (disc 2, bands 1-6), particularly “O patria mia” (disc 2 band 2), where Aida's dilemma reaches its climax. The intensity that Urmana offers is captured well in this video, with the sound quality reflecting the live performance and acoustics of the Met.

Johan Botha brings his polished tenor voice to the role of Radames, and his opening aria “Celeste Aida” (disc 1, band 4) offers a solid performance of the famous aria. The dynamic and expressive nuances of Botha’s performance merit rehearing in this video, which offers a fine representation of the ringing sound and rounded tone. The range and depth of the voice is even throughout, especially the final duet with Urmana in the tomb scene of Act four (disc 2, bands 11-12). The polished sound and stage experience allow Botha to give the touching music Verdi created for the final scene to emerge convincingly.

Of the other roles, the performance offers solid casting, with Roberto Scandiuzzi as Ramfis, and Stefan Kocán as the king. Kocán has since taken on other roles at the Met and elsewhere, and this video is a rare chance to hear the bass in the early part of what promises to be a fine career. The estimable Carlo Guelphi brings a sense of nobility to the role of Amonasro. The duet with Urmana as Aida in the third act, “Ciel! mio padre” (disc 2, band 3) gives a fine sense of Gulephi’s expressive qualities in this role.

Beyond the overt gestures that Aida requires, the intimacy of the final scene is a strong part of this video. As large as the Met staging is in the other acts, the production serves the score well in creating a milieu for Botha and Urmana to interact in this final duet, “O terra, adio.” As the lovers Aida and Radames face death by being buried alive, Urmana and Botha are both expressively powerful, with each singer bringing out fine tone and touching expression. In the hands of these talented performers Verdi’s vocalism comes to life in this performance. Botha is impressive for his supple tone and impressive delivery, and Urmana performs with the same powerful musicianship. Zajick’s presence is notable for the solace she brings to the stage in praying for Radames as the drama comes to its tragic conclusion.

Along with these principals, the Metropolitan Opera Chorus is outstanding in this production, particularly in the “triumphal scene” of Act 2 (disc 1, bands 17-23). In delivering the spectacle of legendary dimension, the Met makes full use of the stage in this colorful production, which Gianni Quaranta designed, along with costumes by Dada Saligeri. The stage direction of Stephen Pickover makes this familiar set piece attractive, with the splendor attributed to ancient Egypt echoed in the generous staging of the Met.

The aspect of movement is important in this work, with the stage of the matter a fitting canvas for the effective blocking to underscore the drama in the work. With the camera angles set up at various points around the stage, including above it, viewers can enter more deeply into the performance than possible inside the Met. This is useful for the ballet sequences, where dance becomes part of the milieu for this work. In this regard the choreography of Alexei Ratmansky is a strong asset of the production for its creative use of movement to fit the libretto and the production as a whole.

In addition to the visual dimensions of the opera, which this DVD captures well, the sound is notable for its full and resonant sense of the house. With minimal audience sounds, the recording levels captures nuances from the stage that are not always possible to hear in all parts of the house, a dimension that the Met brings effectively the HD transmissions, like the one for this particular broadcast. The extras in this release include Renee Fleming’s interviews with the principals (included at the end of the disc 1), as well as choreographer Ratmansky. As whole, the release preserves a fine recent performance of Verdi’s Aida with impeccable quality. It has much to recommend as it brings this work to audiences beyond New York and the HD transmission in 2009.

James L. Zychowicz

   

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