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Some distracting video directing and incongruous production values, but outstanding musically with fine performances

Author: TheLittleSongbird from United Kingdom
29 June 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Aida is one of my favourite operas, so I was eager to see this Zurich production. While not being blown away by it, I did enjoy it, not quite as much as the 1985 Price, McCracken, Cossotto and Estes and 1989 Millo, Domingo, Zajick and Milnes, but more so than the Sophia Loren film, the 1992 Chiara, Zajick, Pons and Ghiuselev and 2009 D'Aix En Provence productions.

While I wouldn't say it looks bad as such, the production is updated to the opening of the Suez Canal with British and French colonialism, and because the story hasn't been changed the production values did look incongruous to me. The video director also seemed to have an obsession with the split-screen technique. There have been a couple of times when it has worked for an opera production, like the 2008 Met production of Tristan Und Isolde, but here it feels too much and distracts from the drama. I was mixed I'm afraid on the Radames of Salvatore Licitra, the voice is ringing and clear, but I found the acting too stolid and underplayed, never quite seeing enough of the role's nobility and heroism.

However much does compensate, such as some interesting staging touches like the final nod to the time of the Pharaohs for the heart-breaking final scene. Musically it is outstanding, with the orchestral playing with a powerful sound for the Triumphal Scene and Ciel Mio Padre and well as nuanced for O Patria Mia and the final scene, and the chorus are very rousing in Act 2. Adam Fischer's conducting is suitably commanding, and the sound quality is great. I did miss the triumphal procession, and felt Zurich could've done one easily but what was done instead was interesting and not too dull.

Nina Stemme is an outstanding Aida. Her vibrato mayn't be for all tastes, but the voice never gave the sense that the role was too heavy for her, she sings musically and she is appropriately heartfelt in Act 3. Juan Pons has been much more powerful vocally before especially in this role in the good but flawed 1985 La Scala production, but still manages to give Amonasro a sense of humanity. Matti Salminen is excellent as Ramfis, dramatically the role can be potentially static but Salminen as he always does brings a command that makes him riveting whenever he's on stage. Vocally he is occasionally coarse, but mostly of a sonorous quality. Other than Stemme, the standout was the Amneris of Luciana D'Intino, a very powerful yet subtle performance with thrillingly-creamy chest notes.

Overall, musically outstanding if not quite as good visually. 7/10 Bethany Cox

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