Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Aida - opera in four acts (1871)
Il Re, King of Egypt – Carlo Colombara (bass); Amneris, his daughter – Anita Rachvelishvili (mezzo); Radames, captain of the guards – Fabio Sartori (tenor); Amonasro, King of Ethiopia – George Gagnidze (baritone); Aida, his daughter – Kristin Lewis (soprano); Ramfis, High priest – Matti Salminen (bass); La Gran Sacerdotessa, priestess - Chiara Isotton (soprano); Messenger, Azer Rza-Zada (tenor)
Coro e Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala di Milano/Zubin Mehta
Stage Director: Peter Stein
Set Designer: Ferdinand W÷gerbauer
Costume Designer: NanÓ Cecchi
Video Director: Tiziano Mancini
rec. 21 February 2015 Teatro alla Scala, Italy
Filmed in High Definition - Mastered from an HD source
Picture format: 1080i - 16:9
Sound formats:
a) DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1ch 48kHz
b) LPCM Stereo 2.0ch 48kHz/24 bit
Subtitles in Italian (original language), German, English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese
Booklet notes: English, German, French
C MAJOR Blu-ray 732304 [151:00]

The popularity of Verdi’s Egyptian grand opera Aida shows little sign of diminishing and audience attendance figures remain high. Aida received its premiŔre in Cairo although the first time Verdi saw his opera was at La Scala, Milan.

For the last decade at La Scala, Franco Zeffirelli’s Aida has held sway and naturally this new production from Peter Stein received great attention. Its reception was mixed.

Under set designer Ferdinand W÷gerbauer gone is Zeffirelli’s lavish spectacle. This is replaced with a vision that is leaner and more intimate. There are far fewer distractions and this served to keep my eye focused on the proceedings. In general the set was dimly lit. The geometrically-shaped concept of the buildings seemed mainly in deep shadow with a focus of bright light beaming from a door arch or similar. Designer NanÓ Cecchi’s costumes bordered on the traditional though comparatively plain but with a twist as the headwear of the priests had a rather egg-shaped appearance. Filmed in HD the vividness of the costume colours was again mainly obscured by the generally darkened stage. Stein’s angularity reminded me at times of Christof Nel’s Bayerischen Staatsoper production of Aida that I attended in Munich in 2010 but without its zestful energy and brilliantly coloured costumes. In keeping with his leaner vision Stein has rather controversially cut out the complete ballet sequence from the procession at the gates of Thebes in act 2. This was a measure that I’m sure Verdi specialist Zubin Mehta would have had to approve.

Overall Mehta has assembled a strong cast which steers clear of the starry opera world. Even so, they perform with considerable credit. No stranger to the title role of the Ethiopian Princess captured as a slave girl, soprano Kristin Lewis sings her romanzas Ritorna vincitor! and O patria Mia with assurance, commitment and good strength. Gliding smoothly through her range the American lirico-spinto communicates a tender expression and acts well. An experienced Radames, Fabio Sartori cannot compete with the matinee-idol attractions and acting abilities of Jonas Kaufmann or Roberto Alagna. He gives a sound rather than an inspired performance as the love-struck army captain. Gifted with one of the most famous of all opera arias, the romanza Celeste Aida which appears early in the opera, the Italian tenor copes well. He gives a moving rendition, masculine and sincere, relying more on dynamics than vocal colour. Anita Rachvelishvili gives the stand-out performance as the cunning Princess Amneris, the daughter of the Egyptian King. L'abborrita rivale a me sfuggia, the mezzo’s challenging aria, receives sterling treatment, firm and highly expressive. Heavily passionate, the duet with Radames GiÓ i sacerdoti adunansi, sees convincing acting from Rachvelishvili and she generates plenty of emotional drama. With consistent self-assurance bass Carlo Colombara as the Egyptian King, baritone George Gagnidze, the Ethiopian King and bass Matti Salminen as Ramfis the high priest acquit themselves admirably. Coro e Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala di Milano under Zubin Mehta are hard to fault.

The sound quality is a touch disappointing with vocal clarity fluctuating slightly. I guess this was owing to imprecise microphone positioning. To a lesser degree this variability also affects the orchestral sound. Overall I found Tiziano Mancini’s camera work satisfactory although it was limited by the subdued lighting. The accompanying booklet includes the customary cast and production list, an essay ‘Peter Stein’s Aida at La Scala’ written by Kenneth Chalmers and a brief but clear synopsis. Those wanting to read the fascinating history of the opera will have to look elsewhere. The Aida ENO Opera Guide (publ. John Calder) with its libretto and English translation is the place to go.

On film the main competition in Aida comes from Franco Zeffirelli’s lavish 2006 production from La Scala. This is under Riccardo Chailly and features Violeta Urmana and Roberto Alagna. It's on Decca Blu-ray. I also admire the thrilling 1989 production from the Metropolitan Opera; Deutsche Grammophon DVD. This is a Peter Gelb/Brian Large production. It is conducted by James Levine and has Placido Domingo as Radames. Nevertheless I did enjoy the present production of Aida. It has some fine performances but could have been presented so much better.

Michael Cookson


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