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Verdi Aida PACO194

Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)
Aïda - opera in four acts (1871)
Renata Tebaldi (soprano) - Aïda
Ebe Stignani (mezzo-soprano) - Amneris
Mario Del Monaco (tenor) - Radamès
Aldo Protti (baritone) - Amonasro
Dario Caselli (bass) - Ramphis
Fernando Corena (bass) - King of Egypt
Piero de Palma (tenor) - Messenger
Santa Cecilia Academy Chorus & Orchestra/Alberto Erede
rec. 1952, Santa Cecilia, Rome
No libretto
Ambient Stereo
Reviewed as 24-bit FLAC download

This was one of the two 1950s recordings I recommended in the mono, studio category of my 2019 survey, the other being, of course, Callas’ EMI version, which Pristine label issued in Ambient Stereo last year (see my review). I first quote here from that survey, insofar as I have no reason to change my mind about the quality of the performance; the big difference now is that, as with the Callas recording, Andrew Rose has remastered the original tapes and rendered it, too, into Ambient Stereo:

“This is not necessarily the best Aida but considering that I can choose from so many recordings in my collection, it surprises me how often I choose to pull this one down from the shelves. It's opera of the old Italian school and its shortcomings - mono sound which is nonetheless quite spacious and some rough orchestra ensemble - are negligible compared with its glories. Tebaldi is here more secure and sweet-toned than in the later Karajan recording, Del Monaco is in thrilling, clarion voice and not by any means wholly without subtlety, pace his detractors, Stignani is still, to my ears, a tower of strength and Caselli’s rich, robust bass is more than adequate, whereas only Corena sounds a bit rocky. The reliable Protti may not be the greatest of post-war Verdi baritones and is sometimes a bit lumpen, but he seems to me to be wholly on top of his role and embodies the irascible, percussive Amonasro well while still occasionally mustering sufficient vocal smoothness in the more lyrical passages; his confrontation with Aida in Act 3 is very effective. If you're unsure, try to listen to an extract from that duet and I think you'll be convinced. We'd queue round the block to hear an Aida this well cast today; it is available cheaply and the purchaser is assured of an opera performed authentically in the Grand Tradition.”

In his note to this new release, Andrew Rose remarks “in the original recording of 1952, prior to this remastering, even in Decca's most recent reissue, the tonal balance is pretty grim and unpleasant” – but I was clearly less bothered by any harshness in the mono sound on my Decca CDs. In his contemporary Gramophone review of that original LP issue, Lionel Salter found it “woolly and backward in quality…a cavernous sound which is badly lacking in definition”, rendering the chorus “fuzzy” and ascribing that failing to the engineers’ problems in adequately capturing an orchestra and full chorus in a large space. Either way, there is no doubting that once again Pristine has radically transformed a venerable recording; as well as the applied stereo effect, he has addressed other issued such as the regular side breaks in a recording made when Decca were still issuing new recordings on 78 rpm records, too, so were possibly working in four-minute takes.

The sound will always be a little hollow and boomy but that opacity has been much reduced and the quasi-stereo spread, depth and roundness of sound brings much greater immediacy to the listener’s experience. This new reincarnation really is a revelation.

Reacquaintance with the young Tebaldi’s earlier recording reminds me of the oft-repeated observations made concerning comparisons between her later recording for Karajan and Callas’ account for Serafin. There is no doubt that in sheer vocal terms, the Tebaldi of 1952 is the most technically accomplished and beautiful of the three and I find the “Bronze Bull of Milan” Del Monaco preferable to both Tucker and Bergonzi – good as they are – in that he is more thrilling than either. Tebaldi is also moving and expressive in her delivery of the text, even if she does not achieve Callas’ unique plangency and acuteness in the pointing of words and phrases – but Callas was going through one of several patches when she was beneath her vocal best in 1955, so frailties are more in evidence, especially in flapping top notes compared with Tebaldi’s security.

This remains, then, one of the most recommendable of the several fine and desirable recordings of Aida made in mono in the 1950s. The other most prominent account is the 1955 recording with Milanov and Björling, conducted by Perlea. It, too, has its fervent admirers and is one of the trio of such recordings from Decca, EMI and RCA all now remastered by Pristine, but I am much less enamoured of it than some, as per my review here.

Ralph Moore

Published: October 26, 2022

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