Josep Mestres Cabanes was the last of the old Catalan
school of scenography, a school that prized realism. Cabanes’
staging of Aida actually dates from 1945, and the sets
were recreated and restored for this production, resulting in
this visual feast. The effects are achieved by paint on paper,
with clever use of perspectives to evoke an imposing Ancient
Egypt. Apparently Cabanes worked on his Aida for eight
years, and the attention to detail is indeed quite remarkable.
Such a naturalistic approach may rub some latter-day producers
up the wrong way, but it will surely be greeted with sighs of
relief by the many. Try maybe the opening of Act 2 for an example
of the lavish nature of these sets, with its impressive Egyptian
pillars. Indeed in Act 2 Scene 2 one wonders just how large
the stage is given the number of people present (or is this
part of the scenographic trickery?).
Strange that there are overlays in black-and-white of
the production team putting up the sets (quite distracting)
as the Prelude progresses, especially since Martinez shapes
the music so nicely.
The team of Dessì and Armiliato was reviewed previously
in their Tosca DVD (http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2004/Oct04/puccini_tosca_benini.htm).
The concerns I raised there with Armiliato to a great extent
hold here, too; and Dessì remains a potent vocal and dramatic
force. No Raimondi here, though, although there are memorable
contributions from several cast members. Certainly, this DVD
provides substantial improvement over the only other DVD Aida
I have reviewed, on Brilliant Classics (http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2004/May04/Verdi_Aida_Brilliant.htm).
Elisabetta Fiorillo begins in rather a wide-vibrato-ed
fashion. Interestingly, Dessì begins her contribution to the
opera with a fair amount of wobble too, but rises to the occasion,
culminating in Act 1 with a great entreaty to the gods at ‘Numi,
pietà’. Similarly, Fiorillo works into her part so that by Act
4 she is really quite convincing in admitting her love for Radamès,
her remorse eminently believable.
The true test of any Aida/Radamès partnership occurs
in the last Act of course, and here it is Dessì that confirms
her vocal superiority over Armiliato. The pair do manage to
make this a touching farewell, however.
Juan Pons’ Amonasro is a big-voiced portrayal by a big
man with a big presence. He is quite simply superb, making his
mark with every note he sings. Roberto Scandiuzzi makes an impressive
Ramfis. As the Messenger, Fadò is a bit bleaty on top. Stefano
Palatchi’s King on the other hand is very strong. Choral singing is excellent, well-balanced
in pianissimo (try Act 1 Scene 2) and impressive at the higher
booklet note dwells long and interestingly on Cabanes’ sets.
A pity there are no printed track-listings to help location
of favoured moments in the opera, but do not let this put you
off. There is much to enjoy here as well as much to stimulate.