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Giuseppe VERDI
Aida: Maria Chiara, sop.
Radames: Luciano Pavarotti, ten.
Amneris: Ghena Dimitrova, mezzo-sop.
Amonasro: Juan Pons, bar.
King of Egypt: Paata Burchuladze, bass
Ramphis: Nicolai Ghiaurov, bass
Priestess: Francesca Garbi, sop.
Messenger: Ernesto Gavazzi, ten.
Theatro alla Scala, December 1985.
ARTHAUS MUSIC - DVD 100-058 [160.00]
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When Verdi's publisher took a look at the new score for this opera in 1869, he declared it immediately to be "money in the bank." Since that time it has been a number-one box office draw and always one of the most performed of all operas.

This DVD is a reissue of the well-known 1985 Theatro alla Scala production. With a strong cast and a spectacular, if conventional, production which features giant images looming over the stage, it has considerable impact, even on the small screen. Lucia Ronconi, the stage director, and the set designs of Mauro Pagano effectively evoke ancient Egypt without involving the principals in a great deal of stage action.

Luciano Pavarotti, as Radames, is, well, Pavarotti: a fine, burnished Italianate tenor voice and in far better voice than his lamentable appearances a few months ago in this role at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. It is clear, however, that 1985 was not a successful year in his continuous combat against Fettuccine, Alfredo and his allies and his character was largely stationary. While his voice had by 1985 lost its youthful bloom he could still deliver the goods. His superb "Celeste Aïda" was cheered for a reported two minutes at this production. Pavarotti's vocal power, colour and warmth of expression place him at the top rank of the great interpreters of this role.

In the title role, however, soprano Maria Chiara is more of a problem. She had a brief period of success in this role at La Scala and was cheered by the audience. But her voice, with all its strength of delivery, seemed more declamatory than lyric. Maybe she was absent the day "portamento" was discussed at singing school, but her inability to move smoothly from one note to another limited her ability to shape a phrase. She is best in the ensembles of this opera and in the dramatic confrontations. But when you hear her "Qui Radames verrà" you will no doubt be inclined to keep your Tebaldi or Leontyne Price versions. Overall her contribution is a plus and she has many fine moments.

The other soloists are all of the highest musical level and include a strong and imperious Amneris (mezzo Ghena Dimitrova) and a powerfully-voiced King of Egypt, her father, played by Georgian bass Paata Burchuladze. Baritone Juan Pons solidly sings the role of Aïda's father, Amonasro, but his silly costume makes him look more like Papageno than the King of Ethiopia. In the role of Ramphis, veteran Nicholai Ghiaurov, shows that he still had the talent and beauty of tone that made him one of the legendary Verdian bass-baritones.

A word should be said about the fine conducting of the newly appointed conductor of the New York Philharmonic, Lorin Maazel. Some critics were negative at the announcement of this appointment. The new conventional wisdom, however, is that he is one of the conducting giants who, because he has been around for so long, has often been taken for granted. In those rare times when he has been in the pit for opera recordings, the results are always of the first order and he brings to this production his celebrated discipline and exacting music-making standards. The La Scala orchestra and chorus are on their best behaviour and the delicious clarity, freshness and passion Maazel finds in this music makes you hear this old pot-boiler with new ears.

The digital sound on this DVD is good, and was apparently well recorded at the original taping. Subtitles are available in German, French, English and Dutch. It is available generally and recommended.

Frank Cadenhead

See also reviews by Ian Lace and Peter Woolf

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