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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Aida (1871)

Aida – Maria Chiara
Amneris – Fiorenza Cossotto
Radames – Nicola Martinucci
Amonasro – Giuseppe Scandola
Orchestra, Chorus and Corps de Ballet of the Arena di Verona/Anton Guadagno
Producer – Giancarlo Sbragia
Video Director – Brian Large
rec. Arena di Verona, 1981
Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0, Format – NTSC 4:3
WARNER DVD 0630-19389-2 [154:00]

Aida was commissioned in 1869 for the new opera house in Cairo and first performed there two years later. It is famous for its massive choral and ballet effects and also for its great orchestral splendour. It deals with a conflict between love and patriotism and despite the ceremony and pomp is shot through with infinite sadness. It is in many ways one of Verdi’s most perfect scores, a fact that is sometimes overlooked because of the spectacular production effects.
 
The Verona Arena was built in AD 30 and was originally designed for more than 30,000 spectators. It was greatly damaged in 1117 by an earthquake, but subsequently restored to its present form. It is now famous for its open air opera productions where a huge audience sits on the stone seating originally designed for spectators for Roman gladiatorial games - a cushion is recommended! With its massive stage that includes two immense stone stairways this is a perfect setting for Aida. The scenery of ancient Rome was very apt for an opera set in  ancient Egypt.
 
The production values are strong with a superb stage-scape based around a pyramid and the lavish use of gold paint. In the more intimate parts of the opera where there are often only one or two people on stage, the effect of the large setting helps to underline the puny individual facing up to the immense forces unleashed when war is declared between two states. The costumes are a very exotic - especially the headwear - and are in line with our expectations of the richness of ancient Egypt.
 
The singing is exceptionally good without any weak link. Maria Chiara in the title role is glorious, especially in the final duet with Fiorenza Cossotto as Amneris. Perhaps the most memorable characterisation is that produced by Giancarlo Sbragia as Amonasro. The atmosphere is electric when he is on stage. 
 
Anton Guadagno conducts with spirit throughout the opera and the choral and balletic effects, not to mention the innumerable ‘extras’ are, striking in this fine setting. The only slight disappointment is the recording, which whilst perfectly adequate lacks the spatial dimension and throughout gave a rather generalised stereo effect.
 
As with so many DVDs the production could be greatly improved by providing more documentation. There was no accompanying booklet and one has to rely upon reading the rear of the cover label through the plastic box to find details of the opera and the DVD Chapter references.
 
Overall this is a good record of a fine live performance with splendid production and vocal standards.
 
Arthur Baker

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