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Brilliant Classics

Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Aida (1871)

Fiorenza Cedolins (soprano) Aida; Walter Fraccaro (tenor) Radamès; Dolora Zajick (mezzo) Amneris; Vittorio Vitelli (baritone) Amonasro; Carlo Striuli (bass) King; Giacomo Prestia (bass) Ramfis; Angelo Casertano (tenor) Messenger; Antonella Trevisan (soprano) Preistess;
Chorus and Orchestra of the San Carlo Theatre, Naples/Daniel Oren.
Rec. Teatro di San Carlo, Naples, Italy.
Dolby Digital. 16:9, All Formats. PAL. 5.1.

The Gluck Orfeo in this series brought forth a cautious recommendation (Brilliant 92273: see review). Moving to Verdi (and therefore moving more to home ground, one would imagine), this Aida is generally more recommendable. It boasts some fine singing, solid conducting and an adequate, if not particularly inspiring, production.

The orchestra immediately sounds more at home in the Prelude than anywhere in the Gluck. Oren leads a delicate performance, the strings coping well with Verdi’s demands. He sticks to his singers like glue (‘Ritorna vincitor’ shows just how on-the-ball he is). The curtain rises on a conventional set - Egyptian columns dominate the stage. Dress will likewise disgruntle few, obviously intending to take us back in years to the Egypt of yore. Pastel colours for Act II are effective and easy on the eye. Note that in Act II there are several instances of an irritating camera-work trait of this product: suddenly we are watching from a floor-level camera, looking up at singers and, indeed (in the ‘Dance of the Moorish Slaves’) dancers. It looks cheap and amateurish and mars the production, not to mention interrupting the flow of Verdi’s masterpiece (while watching the first time I had hoped an example of this at the very end of Act I was a one-off).

Fiorenza Cedolins is a young-looking, fairly slim Aida (her discography boasts a Tosca with Mehta and Bocelli on Decca, by the way). She certainly has the high register this part requires, climactic high As, Bs and Cs being unerringly placed at appropriate dynamics. Her legato, too, is smooth and intensely Verdian. Yet she can tend towards the warbly, an off-putting trait that can demean her dignity. Her pitching is generally accurate and, at least when, in Act IV, Verdi asks her and Radamès to sing in octaves, they do (not always the case!). ‘O terra addio’, her Act IV farewell, is heartfelt, and she produces some lovely high B flats. ‘O patria mia’ is very affecting in Cedolins’ reading.

As Radamès, Walter Fraccaro is generally quite strong, although lower notes cause a problem (and this is evident right from the start: so, despite quite a strong start to ‘Se quel guerrier’, his low D on ‘Vittoria’ shows a weakness in his armour). He can tend towards the literal (Act IV) and a shade more heroism (when he reveals his plan in Act III) would not have gone amiss. Fraccaro’s acting is not great (and he even looks embarrassed at who and where he is at one point near the close of Act I), but he is several levels above Dolora Zajick in that department. Zajick (here Amneris) is a leading mezzo in the opera world (the biggest name on this Aida, that’s for sure). She has a large voice and tons of confidence, yet sometimes her gestures do not match what one hears. She does not look angry in Act IV, for example, when she curses the jealousy that has driven her to destroy Radamès, although close your eyes and you will find that she sounds it.

Vittorio Vitelli’s Amonasro is focused, his diction clear. He utters a convincing and powerful plea for clemency in Act II (‘Ma tu, Re, tu signore possente’), yet his acting is not all it could be - this becomes clear in his Act IV duet with Aida, where Cedolins is substantially more natural a presence. Yet in the same scene he impresses by his long-spun legato line. Ramfis (Giacomo Prestia) sounds well (his career highlight seems to have been taking the part of Montano on the truly excellent Domingo/Chung DG Otello).

Carlo Striuli is, vocally, a weak King, his voice lacking firmness (around low B natural) and he also can appear wooden as a character.

The chorus sing well, with lusty male voices especially in the grand spectacle of the famous ‘Gloria al’Egito’. Of the lesser roles, perhaps mention should go to Angelo Casertano’s Messenger. A pity Antoniella Trevisan’s Priestess is so distanced in the balance.

A pity also that the audience’s applause begins straight after the touching ending, and interesting that they reserve their biggest cheer for the conductor rather than any of the singers. But then again in this case the whole does add up to more that the sum of its parts, and this is due to Daniel Oren’s sure grasp of the opera’s structure.

A qualified recommendation, then. A starrier DVD recommendation (that also includes Zajick as Amneris) is on DG 073 019, conducted by James Levine with his Met forces and with Domingo as Radamès.

Colin Clarke

The whole does add up to more that the sum of its parts, and this is due to Daniel Oren’s sure grasp of the opera’s structure. A qualified recommendation. ... see Full Review

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