Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Aida (1871).
Renata Tebaldi (soprano) Aida; Mario del Monaco (tenor) Radamès; Ebe Stignani (mezzo) Amneris; Aldo Protti (baritone) Amonasro; Fernando Corena (bass) King; Dario Caselli (bass) Ramfis; Piero de Palma (tenor) Messenger; Chorus and Orchestra of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Rome/Alberto Erede.
Rec. Rome in August 1952. ADD
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110129/30 [144’33: 67’52 + 76’41]


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No arias as fillers, this time. Aida nestles nicely into a twofer, so Naxos did not have to further raid the archives. This excellent performance boasts two stars in the two big roles – Renata Tebaldi, a terrifically important lirico spinto soprano takes the title role, and Mario del Monaco is Radamès, whose power and stamina live on in this recording.

The sources for this transfer are British LPs – they come up remarkably well, courtesy of Mark Obert-Thorn. In fact this is one of the finest transfers I have heard in this series. Try the opening Preludio and you will not be disappointed. The delicacy of the strings is caught to perfection – what we hear is a silken web of sound. It is one of the best starts to an opera one could hope for (and some live performances have acted as a reminder as to just how difficult this Prelude is). Moulding the phrases expressively and with a great deal of care, Erede sets the scene for Dario Caselli (Ramfis) to remind us just how large and rounded his voice was. In comparison, del Monaco initially appears as somewhat edgy. But how that impression dissolves with the onset of ‘Se quel guerrier io fossi!’, and how lovely is his legato at ‘Celeste Aida’. One is left in no doubt as to his reserves of power at the end, either.

Questions as to whether he is the most subtle singer are only raised at the very end of the opera, when he comes into direct comparison with his Aida. They sing their final phrase together, Tebaldi supremely affecting, del Monaco perhaps less so.

Appropriately, in performance terms it is Tebaldi who appears at the pinnacle of the cast-list (appropriate because the opera is, after all, about her). There is a brazen determination to ‘Ritorna vincitor’ (end Act 1, Scene 1) that is incredibly compelling. Tebaldi is completely committed. She is similarly excellent in ‘O patria mia’ (Act 3), capturing the atmosphere of homesick longing to perfection.

The third major protagonist, it could be argued, is in the (imagined) pit. Alberto Erede’s sense of dramatic pacing is the fruit of much experience, and he is fully alive to the contours of the score and the various emotions. Tender passages have space to breathe, and yet the more dramatic moments can make one’s heart race. Perhaps his pacing of the latter half of the Third Act is the best example of this. The very urgency that is conveyed means that it is easy to imagine being in the theatre, despite the studio-bound origins of this recording. Another example might be the end of Act 4 Scene 1, where Radamès is condemned to be immured in the tomb (Verdi’s ‘Immuration Scene’?). In Erede’s hands, the music is darkly dramatic, not to mention consistently gripping.

Ebe Stignani’s ebony mezzo, with its burnished lower register, contrasts perfectly with Tebaldi’s Aida. Malcolm Walker’s ever-excellent annotations describe Stignani as ‘the finest Italian mezzo-soprano of her generation’, and on this evidence it is hard to disagree. If baritone Aldo Protti’s Amonasro cannot match his Aida in Act 3, it remains a powerful portrayal. Dario Caselli’s Ramfis, which started so promisingly, continues as he began, capable of real beauty at times (Act 3). Fernando Corena provides a monarch whose regality comes through his voice, strong and sure.

Mark Obert-Thorn provides a post-scriptum that points out that Suzanne Danco may have taken the role of the High Priestess in Act 1, her absence from the credits being to ‘protect’ one of their star sopranos. If true, she is an exalted singer in exalted company.

There is much to praise here. The chorus, so important in this opera, is superb (‘Gloria all’Egitto’ has all the patriotism one could wish).

An important reissue. Now that it has been made available at super-budget price, there really is no excuse for not buying it.

Colin Clarke

see also review by Robert Farr


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