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Giuseppe VERDI
Aida

Aida: Mary Curtis-Verna
Radames: Franco Corelli
Amneris: Miriam Pirazzini
Amonasro: Gian Giacomo Guelfi
Ramfis: Giulio Neri
The King: Antonio Zerbini
A Messenger: Athos Cesarini
Orchestra & Chorus of Radio Televisione Italiana/Angelo Questa
Rec: Turin, Italy, 18 December 1956 - ADD
WARNER FONIT 8573 82642-2 (2 CDs) [c.135.00]


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The series of reissues of the Cetra complete sets from the 1950s continues. The latest instalment is the second of the two Aidas the company sent forth almost a half-century ago (the earlier set, with Caterina Mancini and Mario Filippeschi - and crowned by Giulietta Simionato's grand Amneris - was reissued two years ago {Warner Fonit 8573 83010-2}). The current resuscitation will undoubtedly find its primary justification, for most collectors, in the Radames of the young Franco Corelli. True he recorded the part again just ten years later for EMI, and with as starry a line-up of artists as the 1960s could provide. But this older Cetra performance comes to us in 2002 as the first complete recording by a now legendary and well-loved artist.

But it would be ungallant and, in fact, unjust, to ignore the other singers in the production and, in particular, the ladies. Mary Curtis-Verna of Salem, Massachusetts, USA is not an artist well-remembered these days but she had a long and honorable career, first in Italy and then for a decade at the New York Metropolitan (her other Cetra operas include Un Ballo in Maschera, already amongst the Warner Fonit reissues and, only just recently reissued, Don Giovanni, the latter with a hair-raisingly unidiomatic and fascinating Elvira from the great Adriana, Minnie, and Nedda of the series, Carla Gavazzi!). Here, in her prime, she offers an idiomatic, sincere, and wholly committed account of the tremendously challenging title role. Her voice, basically attractive and warm, and certainly of sufficient size to fill the requirements of the part, suffers to a degree from a certain sameness, even dullness of timbre. You can hear her working to lighten and brighten the sound at the top of her range; she's often successful but the effort is not entirely concealed. Still, she's a fine artist who has all the notes and all the style and today would be in great demand in important theatres. She did not make many recordings (though they include an earlier Aida, for the Remington label, which boasts Ettore Bastianini as Amonasro and the tremendous Oralia Dominguez as Amneris - wouldn't we like to see THAT on a CD, though I suspect that the original tapes are long-gone); for older American listeners this recording will provide a welcome souvenir of many evenings at the Met when she and Corelli were partnered in Adriana Lecouvreur, Don Carlo and other operas.

Miriam Pirazzini is a wonderful Amneris, rich and vibrant in tone, feasting on the words, furiously imperious when required, and capable vocally of all that the role requires save occasional momentary strain in the very highest tessitura. Only belonging to a generation that boasted Simionato, Barbieri, Cossotto, Dominguez, and Stignani prevented her from achieving a more illustrious reputation.

Gian Giacomo Guelfi had a huge instrument. On record it sometimes comes over as rather lugubrious in quality but there is no doubting his authority as Amonasro. Giulio Neri's black and cavernous sound was invented for Ramfis and he suffers only in comparison to his younger self in the earlier Cetra Aida mentioned above.

And what of our star tenor? This is Corelli "prima maniera," before he smoothed out somewhat the strong vibrancy in his voice that was perhaps a result of his studies with Lauri-Volpi. Here the high notes peal with "squillo" and the tenor takes care to repair Verdi's too-parsimonious way with high notes by doubling all those of Aida in the Triumphal scene! A typical, which is only to say irresistible, Corelli performance!

Questa provides unobtrusive and thoroughly stylish conducting. The orchestra, in the manner of 1950s mono recording, is a bit too much in the background (the better to revel in the voices, I hear you say?) but never mind. The recording provides a window onto an era when not too much trouble could assemble a cast like this for Aida and it could be, and often was, taken for granted. No more: it has been some time now since that was the case.

The booklet offers an encomium to Corelli, some nice pictures of the artists, and an Italian-only libretto.

Calvin Goodwin

 


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