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Giuseppe VERDI (1813 - 1901)
Aida (1871) [141:59]
Louis Sgarro (bass) - Il re; Irene Dalis (mezzo) - Amneris; Gabriella Tucci (soprano) - Aida; Franco Corelli (tenor) - Radamès; Giorgio Tozzi (bass) - Ramfis; Cornell MacNeil (baritone) - Amonasro; Robert Nagy (tenor) - Un messaggero ; Carlotta Ordassy (soprano) – Una sacerdotessa
Orchestra and Chorus of the Metropolitan Opera House/George Schick
rec. live, 3 March, 1962, Metropolitan Opera, New York. mono
WALHALL WLCD 0382 [74:21 + 67:38]

Franco Corelli made two commercial recordings of Aida: the first was for Cetra in 1956 and has been ably reviewed by my MusicWeb International colleagues Göran Forsling and Calvin Goodwin. It is in good mono and sports a fine cast, but is rather similar to this live recording under review, insofar as all the singers are between good and excellent but the Radamès clearly remains the star of the show. In 1956 Corelli was in freshest voice and less inclined to grandstand. However, the incipient tremolo and lisp, partially remedied by study under Lauri-Volpi, are both very apparent. He had not yet begun to cultivate the famous diminuendo required by Verdi for the concluding B flat of “Celeste Aida” which was always so impressive yet might have hastened his vocal decline.
The second studio recording was made ten years later in 1966 for Mehta. It finds him able to produce that famous effect but also coarser and less obviously the star. He was paired with the formidable Birgit Nilsson in a role which did not ideally suit her gifts.
To my ears, despite being in mono, this live Metropolitan recording from mid-way between the two previously mentioned represents the ideal of Corelli’s Radamès; that is apart from the absence of that diminuendo on the closing note of the opening aria. He is absolutely thrilling throughout, admittedly grandstanding shamelessly on the repeated, absurdly prolonged high As of the “Io resto a te” at the close of Act III. Nevertheless this forms an electrifying climax to the wonderfully dramatic confrontation with Irene Dalis’s desperate Amneris. I find him wholly believable as the love-struck young warrior who refuses to compromise his honour. OK; he momentarily loses the tempo on the almost muttered repeat of “il tuo bel cielo vorrei ridarti” in an otherwise strikingly confident rendition of that killer opening aria. That said, for the most part he is scrupulously musical and sings in the kind of ringing voice which has never since been equalled.
Aida can by no means be all about the tenor. Gabriella Tucci is an under-rated artist by virtue of having been overshadowed by some more famous contemporaries and having a somewhat less distinctive voice. In fact, she has almost everything an Aida needs, excepting perhaps more warmth and volume at key points. Her tone is slightly metallic but beautifully controlled. In “Numi pieta” she demonstrates that she has the ability essential to a successful Aida to float a note into the auditorium. No doubt her lissom appearance enhanced the appreciation for her performance demonstrated by the audience’s enthusiastic applause. She and Corelli really come into their own in Acts III and IV. They were regular stage partners and understood each other. Corelli is undoubtedly considerate of her less ample vocal resources and allows her to make her more subtle effects.
Irene Dalis sings a really impassioned and credible Amneris; she has a powerful lower register and is very secure and convincing even if her tone is oddly “cupped” and hardly Italianate. The role of Amonasro just needs voice, voice and more voice, provided in spades by the great Cornell MacNeil in top form, formidably large and commanding with excellent legato. Giorgio Tozzi makes a steady, sonorous, imposing Ramfis. Only Louis Sgarro's bland and wobbly King is a bit of a disappointment.
The conducting of George Schick, of whom I confess I had not heard, is competent, at times a little stolid, and clearly in thrall to the tempi of his lead tenor. The orchestral playing is good, especially the trumpets in the Triumphal March. The chorus is excellent with some really good basses.
The sound is surprisingly good and clear, recorded at high volume and with the microphone biased towards the singers, leaving us with some muddy orchestral textures. There is a little hiss and some irksome coughing, especially at the start of Act III.
Walhall lazily provides no timings – neither for tracks nor disc duration. Presentation is minimal with a brief essay about the performers and two striking photographs of the two principals looking like the dream team of handsome young lovers in wonderfully kitsch 1960s costume. I would kill to hear an Aida cast this well today.
Ralph Moore

Masterwork Index: Aida