Aida is my favorite Verdi opera. The music is stunning, with bold dives into modalism, the orchestral palette goes from minimalism to incredibly powerful tutti, the melodies are glorious. Dramatically it's a knockout: conflict from the first to the last note, with romance, intrigue, war, betrayal, guilt, love, power, religion -- the action is always flowing and the characters go through a wide emotional (and vocal) range. The opera's structure is in itself a triumph of reverse expectations, having two initial mega ensemble acts followed by two highly intimate and emotionally heart-wrenching final acts. Acts III and IV could very well be the summit of 19th Italian opera; act IV, especially, is a theatrical stroke of genius, having the suspenseful interrogation of Radames take place backstage, leaving only Amneris' reactions and the magnificent music on stage. The libretto and the music are so organically intertwined they seem to have been created simultaneously (of course they weren't).
In this performance at the NY Met, conducted by the always reliable James Levine, Aprile Millo was nothing short of inspired. Her performance is really heartfelt, her voice in full glory, with wonderful dynamics (including a couple of breathtaking pianissimi); she knows every nuance of her part and seems born to play Aida (even if Leontine Pryce had the perfect physique and Caballé's 1972 studio performance of Aida was simply vocal perfection).
Great Plácido Domingo, unfortunately, was not in top vocal shape in this performance, especially in the first act (he undeniably disappoints in that nightmare of all tenors, the I've- not-even-properly-gone-onstage-and-already-have-to-sing "Celeste Aida"), and he uncharacteristically lets the effort show. But he gets better along the way and by the time of the final duet in Act IV his voice is its usual powerhouse great. And he's such an extraordinary singer and actor anyway - what other major opera star has played Radames with such a combination of heroism, understanding of the role, masterful acting, and appropriate physique?
Chubby-faced Dolora Zajick is an awkward actress, but her voice is so powerful and her role so good, one forgets about it. Only Milnes is below par here, his voice a little tired, though he manages the acting with intelligence and brio.
The décors and costumes are simply eye-boggling (and far from tacky), just what you'd expect from a top performance of the most grandiose Italian opera of them all in the wealthiest opera house of them all. Sit back and enjoy! This is one DVD to purchase and see many times.
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