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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Aida (1871) [154:00]
Aida - Susanna Branchini (soprano)
Radames - Walter Fraccaro (tenor)
Amneris - Mariana Pentcheva (mezzo)
Amonasro - Alberto Gazale (baritone)
Il Re - Carlo Malinverno (bass)
Ramfis - George Andguladze (bass)
A Messenger - Cosimo Vassallo (tenor)
A Priestess - Yu Guanqun (soprano)
Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Regio di Parma/Antonino Fogliani
rec. live, Teatro Regio di Parma,1 and 5 February 2012
Director: Joseph Franconi Lee after Alberto Fassini
Picture format: NTSC/16:9
Sound format: PCM Stereo, DTS 5.1
Region code: 0
Subtitles: Italian, English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese
Booklet Notes: Italian, English, German, French
C MAJOR 724808 [165:00]

Antonino Fogliani conducts a musically strong and visually spectacular production of Aida from Parma, bringing together a fine cast under the direction of Joseph Franconi Lee. The drama becomes progressively more engaging and convincing through the opera, until some particularly affecting singing and acting from the central characters in act 4.
In a very traditional staging, Lee brings an enormous amount of visual detail to the opera. The costumes and props are elaborate and intricately detailed, and the cast wear them very convincingly. Rather controversially, the chiefly Italian cast have their skin darkened with extensive make-up. Regardless of the political correctness of this, it mostly makes for a very African aesthetic, although the make-up does frequently appear somewhat blue - see Amneris on the disc cover image.
The grand, large-scale scenes for which this opera is famed come off very well, largely thanks to the excellent singing of the chorus. They make an impressive sound at every opportunity, particularly in the pre- and post-war scenes. The latter of these, the famous ‘triumphal march’ is as striking as could be hoped for, although some of the ballet here will not be to all tastes. Though well-mapped to the music, it felt somewhat overly fussy compared to some excellent work elsewhere in the opera. Blocking is mostly clear and effective, with the exception of a few moments where characters who are supposed to ‘dash in’ seem to appear rather slowly.
The principals vary between very good and outstanding. Aida and Amneris lead with superb performances, extracting every ounce of the psychological drama of the later acts. Susanna Branchini as the title character sings with a beautifully rounded, measured tone throughout her range, from her solo at the end of the first scene to her profoundly moving explanation of how she came to share Radames’ tomb in the final scene. Her distress at the dilemma of betraying Radames or her country is very well conveyed.
Mariana Pentcheva as Amneris develops in complexity. She begins as a clear-cut manipulative liar in act 2, but does well to invite a good deal of sympathy in act 4 in her repeated offerings of redemption to Radames. Her voice seems to follow this shift, softening beautifully later on until she falls, distraught, over Radames’ tomb. Radames himself (Walter Fraccaro) is less convincing dramatically than the two central women, but sings very well, particularly in partnership with others; his first act trio ‘Come, O Delight’ is excellent.
The two kings and Ramfis sing with good timbre and diction, despite not being especially imposing vocally. They give strong performances in their dramatic roles, however. In particular, Amonasro’s Act 3 interaction with Aida shows him as a steely, wilful character quite happy to manipulate his daughter.
The orchestra, under Fogliani’s direction, play with a brilliant palette of colours. They are unfailingly sensitive to the action above them, but also provide many moments of shimmering beauty in their own right. Fogliani’s sense of structure is mostly very good, maintaining a good pace through most of the opera. That said, the latter parts of act 1 threaten to sprawl.
The camerawork is excellent at capturing the action in all its dramatic and visual detail without ever feeling cluttered. Scenes such as Radames’ judgement, in which all action is offstage, are handled with unobtrusive but interesting panning shots of the temple. Sound is clear and well-balanced. This is a strong and satisfying performance on the whole, though perhaps not as well-rounded as the 2006 Zürich Opera production with Nina Stemme in the title role. Anselm Gerhard’s booklet notes, and a ten minute background to the opera serve as good introduction.
Rohan Shotton 

Masterwork Index: Aida