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Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901)
Aida (1871)
Kevin Short (bass) – Il Re; Iano Tamar (soprano) – Amneris; Tatiana Serjan (soprano) – Aida; Rubens Pelizzari (tenor) – Radamès; Tigran Martirossian (bass) – Ramfis; Iain Paterson (baritone) – Amonasro; Ronald Samm (tenor) – Un messaggero; Elisabetta Martorana (soprano) – Una sacerdotessa
Camerata Silesia, Polish Radio Choir Krakow, Bregenzer Festspielchor
Wiener Symphoniker/Carlo Rizzi
Directed by Graham Vick, Set and Costume Design: Paul Brown, Lighting Design: Wolfgang Göbbel, Choreography: Ron Howell
Video Director: Felix Breisach
rec. live, Bregenzer Festspiele, Seebühne, 17, 22, 24 July 2009
Filmed in High Definition. Mastered from an HD source.
Picture format: NTSC 16:9; Sound formats: PCM 2.0 DD 5.1
UNITEL CLASSICA 702308 [135:00]

Experience Classicsonline

At Bregenz one can expect spectacular productions – or at least conspicuous ones. I am talking about Opera on Lake Bodensee which takes place in July and August each year. It’s part of the Bregenz festival which provides a lavish offer of opera, theatre and concerts. The outdoor stage surrounded by water invites gigantic sets and the long distance to the grandstand on the shore requires amplifying equipment. I have seen some productions on DVD and also some stills. They are generally provocative, putting the characters in settings as far away from the original as can be imagined. Il trovatore a few years ago took place in an industrial landscape, possibly on an oil platform. This Aida goes even further. The water here isn’t ocean deep but allows the actors to wade, to swim, to fall in or splash, even to be drowned. During the prelude two lifeless bodies hanging on a wire attached to an enormous building crane, are slowly transported before the eyes of horrified onlookers until they are lowered down into a barge off the stage. In Trovatore fire was central to the proceedings; in Aida water has the same importance, the Nile being the life-blood of the Egyptians. There is a water ballet in the triumphal scene. The tomb episode takes place on a ship drifting among the waves. During the final duet the ship rises from the water and sails into the sky, leaving Amneris alone at the waters’ edge. A real amphibious opera.

Dominating the stage picture are two monstrously big, blue feet. Why are they there? Whatever the reason they appear to function as the firm foundation around which the action rotates, whether it be Aida, the slave girl, scrubbing the floor, Amneris in black dotted evening gown airing her human ‘dogs’ or high priests and soldiers invading the stage. There are activities aplenty with numerous extras just being there, costumes are a mix of modern and ancient. All this business tends to suffocate the central conflicts and it is typical of the performance that it is in the Nile scene – act III – that the action grabs the viewer by the throat; this is the first scene with no external distractions. In a way this is dramaturgically sensitive, since the first two acts primarily deal with festivities, while the core of the drama is the triangle Aida – Amonasro – Radames. This is an oversimplification of the plot. There are many strands in the libretto and Amneris – though basically an evil character but one who loves – is the hub around which everything rotates. In this performance it also becomes obvious why Verdi initially contemplated naming the opera Amneris.

Iano Tamar, the Georgian soprano who was also a great Leonora in Il Trovatore, is the star; her somewhat darkish timbre contrasting well with Tatiana Serjan’s girlish Aida. Tamar has authority and a thrilling lirico-spinto voice. In the first scene in act IV she is truly great. Serjan at first seems too lyrical for Aida, having a fluttery soubrette voice but it sits well with her youthful looks. Her Ritorna vincitor is however sung with intensity and in the third and fourth acts she grows in stature, no doubt inspired by Scottish baritone Iain Paterson’s powerful Amonasro. He is an unusually dangerous Ethiopian king. Rubens Pelizzari is a rather pale Radamès in the first two acts but like his Aida he grows and in the Nile duet he finds a glow that has eluded him before. O terra addio, though sung in a strange setting, is delivered with lyrical beauty and warmth by both artists. Tigran Martirossian is an acceptable Ramfis but Kevin Short’s King is terribly wobbly.

As so often with these Bregenz productions one ends up in two minds. They’re innovative for sure, and this Aida is no exception. One can marvel at ideas that suddenly illuminate the proceedings but just as often one thinks: ‘What’s the point of this?’ Carlo Rizzi keeps things together and draws splendid playing from the Wiener Symphoniker. The choral forces have no easy task to walk all those stairs and balance on wet slippery stones while keeping an eye on the conductor but they manage it well. Sound and pictures are good. Readers have to decide from my descriptions whether this is a DVD worth spending money on, but Iano Tamar’s glorious Amneris should definitely be seen and heard.

Göran Forsling