If you want your Aida in a straight staging
with full Hollywoodesque treatment then this is just about it. I say
"just about" because it cannot quite compete with the rival
New York Met production from the same period under James Levine (available
on video/DVD) with live horses on stage and the full Cecil B. DeMille
treatment. However, San Francisco Opera pulls out the stops and fills
the stage with lavish costumes and massive pillared scenery that can
spectacularly move about as required. There may not be horses but there
is a dog.
The Met production boasted Placido Domingo, this one
has Pavarotti creating the role of Radames for the first time. Twenty
two years ago the great tenor was in fine voice and it will be one of
the reasons for purchasing this DVD. Radames enters immediately after
the prelude and within a couple of minutes we are able hear Pavarotti
launch into the famous aria Celeste Aida, expressing his fixation
on the Ethiopian slave. So Pavarotti fans will have their spines tingled
from the start and are rewarded with an immaculate high note at the
end – spot-on with little vibrato. He sings the note loudish which is
not what Verdi directed. Singers are not allowed to play loose with
scores now days, but I suppose if you are Pavarotti you get away with
it, and in this case it is no great sin.
As for his acting, Pavarotti’s style on the whole is
to park his massive frame, stand like a house end (as they say in Yorkshire)
and deliver. As a result his acting attracts criticism. This is often
unfair because his facial expression will usually convey such intensity
that you feel he is seriously committed to the drama of the situation.
So it is in Celeste Aida and the video camera-work, in concentrating
on the face, capitalises on this aspect of the Pavarotti style.
Likewise, Margaret Price is not the greatest of actresses
and as Aida she may look more Welsh housewife than young Ethiopian slave,
but the voice has a youthful innocence to it that fits the role well
and made her one of the great Aidas of the era as well as a wonderful
Desdemona. Simon Estes looks absurdly young to be her father (although
he was over 40 at the time) but his voice, more Wagner than Verdi, suitably
Stefania Toczyska as Amneris really does look and act
the part although her fine mezzo voice can sound a little under-powered
when in ensemble with the other principals. To be fair though, there
appear to be some microphone positioning problems that may contribute
to this. For example, after the Celeste Aida aria, she enters
upstage and Pavarotti turns away to face her and in order to hear them
both I had to turn the volume right up.
The production builds suitable momentum as time goes
on and although there is sometimes a little raggedness in the big set
pieces with chorus, it is musically sound under Garcia Navarro and the
singers ensure some genuinely moving moments.
Colour and sound (notwithstanding those miking problems)
are good and although there are no bonuses on the DVD, the booklet contains
a list of splendidly detailed cueings which will greatly aid navigation
if you wish to indulge your favourite moments.
see also review
by John Phillips