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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Aida - Opera in four acts (1871)
Il Re, King of Egypt - Roberto Tagliavini (bass); Amneris, his daughter - Luciana D'Intino (mezzo); Radamès, captain of the guards - Marco Berti (tenor); Amonasro, King of Ethiopia - Ambrogio Maestri (baritone); Aida, his daughter - Hui He (soprano); Ramfis, High Priest - Giacomo Prestia (bass)
Chorus and Orchestra of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino/Zubin Mehta
rec. live, 74th Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Festival (Florence), 2011
Stage Direction: by Ferzan Ozpetek
Set Design: Dante Ferretti
Television Director: Benoît Vlietinck
Sound: PCM Stereo, DD 5.1. Picture: 16:9. Region: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitle Languages: Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish, Korean
ARTHAUS MUSIK 101 598 [151:00]

Experience Classicsonline

My very first recording of Aida back in the 1960s - on LPs - was with a star-studded cast, including Birgit Nilsson, Grace Bumbry and Franco Corelli with the young Zubin Mehta conducting. If I remember correctly this was his debut recording and it was tremendously thrilling. The glories may have paled a bit during the intervening 45 years and I have added quite a few other recordings with comparable casts, but in my heart that old recording still has a special place. Thus it was very interesting to hear - and watch - the same opera with the same conductor so many years later. Zubin Mehta has not always been hailed for his opera recordings during the last couple of decades. ‘Routine’, ‘uninspired’, ‘no special insights’ have been recurring verdicts, and I didn’t expect too much from this performance. It is true that he lacks the individuality of, say, Karajan, Solti or Muti; on the other hand there are no idiosyncrasies either. We hear an honest, middle-of-the road reading with excellent playing and singing from the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino forces.
The production is also, by and large, rather middle-of-the-road. The sets are less spectacular than in many productions I have seen and none the worse for that. I must admit, though, that I don’t understand the symbolism with the little blood-stained girl running about during the ballet in the triumph scene. Overall this is a production that is straightforward and concentrates on the main conflicts. The acting is good and the singing, with a few exceptions, fully worthy of the occasion. Ramphis (Giacomo Prestia) is rather shaky in the first act but grows in stature in act II and is quite magnificent in the third act. Il Re (Roberto Tagliavini) is excellent, something one cannot always say of this character. Ambrogio Maestri, who since his debut at La Scala in Falstaff in 2001 has become one of the most important of present-day baritones, is very much a Verdi specialist. He is an imposing Amonasro, visually and vocally, and in the Nile scene practically owns the stage. Marco Berti’s Radamès has heft and brilliance and makes some attempts at softer nuances but first and foremost he is powerful but unsubtle. In the tomb scene he manages to scale down and sing at least at mf. Luciana d’Intino as Amneris is also big-voiced and impressive and the big emotions are well handled. The greatest surprise is no doubt the Aida of Hui He. This Chinese soprano has since her acclaimed Madama Butterfly in Bordeaux 2003 conquered the world’s stages in the lirico-spinto repertoire. Aida and Tosca are her most celebrated roles. Hers is not the larger-than-life ear-splitting type of voice but a subtly sensitive and lyric. She couples this with the expansion of dynamics that allows her to ride the orchestra also at tutti. Her pianissimos in the Nile aria and later in the tomb scene are truly ravishing.
There have been quite a few Aida productions lately that have made me wonder whether a decree has been issued from the opera director’s union that all opera favourites should be mercilessly slaughtered beyond recognition. This one, thank God, has restored one’s faith in the art of stage direction.
Göran Forsling

see also review of Blu-ray version by Robert Farr

Masterwork Index: Aida