Another opera production that I had mixed feelings on
I admit I was disappointed because Aida is one of my favourite Verdi operas. The production is certainly better done than the 2009 Bregenz and 2004 St Margarethen ones, but for other DVD Aidas I'll stick with the 1989 Met and 2003 one with Daniela Dessi. It is far from terrible as there are a lot of good things, but things could have been done better. The sets(apart from a too darkly lit Act 1 for my tastes) are grand and colourful, especially in Act 2, and the costumes in comparison to those of the St Margarethen production- the one I saw most recently- are much more suited to the setting and more appealing to the eyes. The orchestral playing is beautiful, musical and with crisp articulation, managing to rouse, move and convey the drama. The chorus could have been larger, but give their all, and the conducting is without any major complaints.
Act 2 is more rousing and the choreography much less risible, while the Act 3 scene between Aida and Amonasro has intensity(helped by the fact that De Vaughn and Donati were the best actors in the cast). Pauletta De Vaughn has a beautiful voice, that is capable of tenderness and bite but always with authority. And her Aida is very heartfelt. Walter Donati has a very clear-in-quality sound to his voice which has power and natural phrasing. Like De Vaughn he is a good actor, he is powerful, ruthless yet also with a fatherly side.
However, Bruno Sebastian as Radames sounds strained and sounds like he's singing a Wagner Heldentenor role, his lack of dynamic range and habit of hectoring don't help. And while handsome and more heroic nor does his stock and stolid acting or lack of chemistry with his colleagues. Adriana Nicolai is a little better in the acting department(she's more emotive) and is much more subtle than the Amneris for St Margarethen but is rather matronly and doesn't really bring out the qualities, not really regal or powerful enough, that make Amneris so interesting. I also couldn't stand her voice, which had a vibrato so wide that I couldn't decipher what notes she was singing on some of the time and her over-darkening at the bottom made her top even less easy to listen to. Alexander Teliga has a lovely noble bass voice, but because Ramfis comes across as swamped by the spectacle(most of the characters and the drama are actually) he doesn't ever distinguish himself, a shame really because I know from his Zaccaria that he was capable of it.
With the exception of the scene with Aida and Amonasro, the stage direction and drama never take off, everything feels passionless and dull(especially Act 1); it doesn't help that the impressive spectacle has a tendency to swamp and it also doesn't help that most of the cast are not very good actors. This is also an abridged performance, some of what was omitted was important to the drama, meaning that it often lacked cohesion(another reason why it was so lacking dramatically?) and the transitions sounded awkward at times. The sound is not always very balanced with a tendency to favour the orchestra over the singers, and while most of it is good the camera work can have a stop-start quality to it. In conclusion, mixed feelings on this one. 5/10 Bethany Cox
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