As a lifelong fan of Verdi, Aida, opera and also of Placido Domingo, Nicolai Ghiaurov and Mirella Freni, I saw this 1987 performance. The 1989 Met production is still my favourite of all the Aidas I've seen, however this production elevated to a higher level by the great cast is very good.
Verdi's Aida to me is one of his best, the story is dramatically compelling, the characters especially Amneris are among the most memorable of any of Verdi's operas in a list that includes King Phillip, Violetta, Otello, Iago, Rigoletto, Azucena, Simon Boccanegra and Aida and the music particularly Celeste Aida, The Grand March, O Patria Mia, the duet between Aida and Amonasro, the Judgment scene and the final scene between Aida and Rhadames is magnificent.
This production is very good. My only real complaints are the occasionally fuzzy sound and Domingo's awful costume, it was almost as if the costume designers had run out of material for his skirt. The picture quality is good however even with the odd grainy moment, and the camera work is cleverly done.
When it comes to the costumes, apart from Domingo's, they are generally fine, Amneris especially looks regal. From a musical point of view, the production also succeeds. Throughout the orchestra play with power and authority and the conducting is never too rushed or plodding.
I also wish to mention the chorus and the choreography. The chorus sing with a vibrant and well balanced sound and move ably across the stage. Choreographically, the Grand March is suitably stately and the ballet is beautifully choreographed, having seen productions where this scene is not as successful as it should be I was very impressed really.
Excellent singing too. Mirella Freni has always been one of my favourites, especially for her alluring personality, beautiful voice and musicianship. In regard to the latter, the most musical sopranos to me are Freni, Caballe, Devia, Tebaldi and Price(the last one is my favourite Aida). Freni mayn't be my idea of Aida, I did worry that the role would be too heavy. But no, while there is some slight harshness in the singing, it is a very musical and overall vocally beautiful performance and her acting in O Patria Mia is very heartfelt.
Like Freni, Placido Domingo is also one of my favourites. Dramatically he is very heroic and dramatically intense, coming from a role that I often find bland dramatically that was a big bonus. His voice has by now adopted a baritonal quality to it and some of the high notes show signs of strain particularly in act 3. As for the nightmare to sing that is Celeste Aida, this is the best I've heard him sing it, the musicality is outstanding and of the four or so times I've heard him sing Rhadames this rendition shows the high B flats at their most free. Throughout he uses the voice musically especially the sublime mezza voce during Celeste Aida, and his chemistry with Freni is evident especially in the poignant final scene.
I have remarked more than once that Ingvar Wixell's voice mayn't appeal to all. I can understand why some may find the tone rather dry. I happen to think it is a good voice that is used with firm dramatic skill. But what makes me quite like Wixell is his acting, as an actor he is outstanding, always making an effort to embody the character he's performing. His Amonasro is no exception, it is a powerful performance.
Nicolai Ghiaurov was a simply amazing bass. He had a great personality whether on or off stage, he was always effective live and on recording and his voice had such velvety warmth and elegant legato to it. He here makes for a noble Ramfis and one of the better and less static ones I've seen in the role alongside Lloyd, Ghiuselev and Burchuladze. Vocally the legato is still there and the size and musicality even if the voice is lacking a tad in the warmth he had in the 60s.
David Langan is a vocally sturdy and acting-wise imposing King, if perhaps the weakest of the principals. Now that is not to say he is not good, just that the cast is so wonderful and if there was someone who I would deem as least favourite of this great cast it would be Langan.
To me though, Stefania Toczyska as Amneris is the main draw of this Aida. Her high notes are ringing and creamy and her chest voice is hefty and of a haunting quality, when I hear Toczyska sing this role I hear not Toczyska but Amneris. She is a compelling presence on stage too, no awkwardness in sight. The judgement scene is perhaps Amneris's meatiest moment of the entire opera, and she performs it with relish and prowess.
All in all, very good. 8/10 Bethany Cox
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