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
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
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.
See also reviews by Ian Lace and