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Giuseppe VERDI (1813 1901)
Aida - Opera in four acts
Aida Montserrat Caballé (soprano)
Radamès Placido Domingo (tenor)
Amneris Fiorenza Cossotto (mezzo-soprano)
Ramfis Nicolai Ghiaurov (bass)
Amonasro Piero Cappuccilli (baritone)
Il re dEgitto Luigi Roni (bass)
With Nicola Martinucci and Esther Casas
Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Trumpeters of the Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall
New Philharmonia Orchestra / Riccardo Muti
Recorded 2-9 and 11 July 1974 Walthamstow Assembly Halls London
Digital Remastering at Abbey Road Studios 2001 ADD
EMI Classics CMS 5 67613 2 [CD1: 39.44 CD2: 41.16 CD3: 65.27]

This is Son et Lumière on the Electronic amplification and Laser light scale. From the NEC to Cairo via Earls Court and Verona the packed audiences demonstrate time and again that Aida has never lacked performances. Epic scale, "hummable" melody and clever marketing keep it at the forefront of public spectacle.

However Verdi wrote much more: a simple love triangle; a daughter riven by love and duty; a deeply political if not Machiavellian father; a princess driven to successive love lorn "u" turns; and a simple warrior hero. The characters do not need to develop as in other Verdi operas. He sets the human drama in the context of the grand background and lets the music take over. As should we.

On this recording let the vocal sounds surround you. Recorded over 25 years ago and recently re-mastered Montserrat Caballé will delight your ears. There is not a false pause or a misplaced tone. Positively there are some staggeringly delivered soft high notes produced with no apparent effort. Her two "show" arias Ritorna vincitor and O patria mia are justification for the purchase of this CD alone. Conflict in one, nostalgia another, anguish in both, and all so evident.

Combine that with Fiorenza Cossotto and the two voices make for unforgettable interplay and duets. The descent of Amneris from haughty princess to desperate unrequited lover is vocally faultless. Her trial scene changes of approach are superbly delivered. It is such a pity that her final lines from above the tomb are somewhat lost in the ensemble.

Placido Domingo is in fine form and although I would have expected more tonal contrasts than simple passion there are some superb sounds. Against the female range, his role, but never his voice, appears somewhat flat. Perhaps that is the simple warrior. That said there is nothing simple about the vocal part of his role. His opening aria is potentially painfully demanding particularly when, as here, it is delivered at a quick-ish pace. Indeed I thought that that pace detracted slightly from several scenes. Combine that with an almost "punchy" orchestral delivery and there is a recipe for diminished nuance and contrast. This seemed to be relevant in some of the ensembles where sometimes the several contributions could not be distinguished from the sum of the whole.

Amonasro takes us back to the intimate drama of the opera. It is a splendidly devious role which is the lynch pin of the plot. Every blackmail device is used by him, which no daughter could withstand. While perhaps a little limited in tonal variation, so that the wide spectrum of cunning is not evident, Piero Cappuccilli sings with clarity of diction and rounded tone laying the foundations for the tragic end.

In contrast Ramfis and the King are straightforward roles of almost detached superiority. The Isis appointed battle commander is exhorted to victory by the King and bloodthirstily blessed by Ramfis and the Priests. These are vicarious warriors. Thus Nicolai Ghiarov (Ramfis) and Luigi Roni (The King) display majestic vocal pomp and circumstance in carrying forward the tide of militarism.

The Triumphal March is a Verdi spectacular. The Trumpeters of The Royal Military School of Music lead us onwards and upwards in a purity of sound delivered at a very quick march. That pace is taken up by the orchestra which whilst exciting tends to diminish the grandeur.

Robert McKechnie

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