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Verdi: Aida / Levine, Millo, Domingo, Ramey, Morris, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra

Release Date: 11/22/2011 
Label:  Sony   Catalog #: 88697527722   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Giuseppe Verdi
Performer:  Dolora ZajicJames MorrisSamuel RameyAprile Millo,   ... 
Conductor:  James Levine
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Metropolitan Opera ChorusMetropolitan Opera Orchestra
Number of Discs: 3 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This set does not include a libretto.

This is a distinctively sung, vigorously, often sensitively conducted and played, faithfully recorded reading of the old favourite that should please anyone looking for a well-integrated modern version. My enthusiasm goes rather further in the case of Millo's reading of the title role. In the interview on page 1968, the diva tells us that she has listened to most of the notable interpreters from the past, distant and not so distant, and the study shows not in any imitative way but in an authentically spinto kind of singing that has been hard to discern in other recent renderings. The firm yet vibrant, dark-hued, voluptuous tone is leavened by an appealing brightness at the top and an
Read more ability to float that is wholly natural, never contrived. Listen to "Pieta ti prenda" in the scene with Amneris or "Numi pieta" at its end and you'll hear how Millo is able to shade her timbre and her phrasing in a way that ideally matches the music.

The conflicting emotions of "Ritorna vincitor" are faithfully delineated, the reflective, elegiac mood of "0 patria mia" perfectly caught, with the final awkward passage managed par excellence. Still better is the instinctively right shading in "La, tra, foreste vergine" in the Act 3 duet with Radames and the poised singing of "0 terra addio" in the finale (although she here fails one dolcissimo test). In these examples the voice is all of a piece and the legato seamless. All this confirms the excellent impression Mil lo made on me when the opera was televized from the Metropolitan a couple of years back, a performance that delighted not a few seasoned buffs. After hearing the whole interpretation, I took down from the shelves some famous prima donne on disc: Millo was shown to be more youthful than Milanov on the Perlea/RCA (but it's that great diva at her best that Millo most potently recalls), more vocally appealing than Tebaldi for Karajan (Decca), more reliable in voice than Callas for Serafin/EMI (though not so unique in accents), more involved and as technically skilled than Price (in her first version on Decca under Solti), fuller in tone than Caballe (Muti/EMI). I wouldn't claim that in every respect Millo is superior to these formidable sopranos or to Giannini on the old HMV set now on Rodolphe/Harmonia Mundi and Pearl, simply that she is at least their peer on this evidence.

Millo is the most urgent reason for acquiring this set, but she is worthily supported by Domingo, offering his fourth and, I would judge, best Radames to date. Try "Celeste Aida", or even better the start of the final scene, to learn how much more refined the great tenor's reading has become. In the latter passage, he sings in a mezza voce he has never attempted in the past; indeed, throughout, the approach is more thoughtful. In forte the voice may be very marginally more stretched than, say, in Muti's 1974 set, still a very strong contender, but the difference is slight. When he is finally gone from the scene, we shall treasure his sterling performances, even if we shall still think in this instance that Pertile (Sabajno), Corelli (Mehta/EMI) and Vickers (Sol ti) are the ones with true Radames voices. By the way, at the end of his aria Levine and Domingo opt for the Toscanini solution—forte high B flat followed by a piano B flat an octave lower.

So much more at home in Verdi than he is in Mozart and Wagner, James Levine conducts a performance that captures the cut and thrust of the public scenes in the first part of the opera and the private anxieties and confrontations of the second. Learning a great deal from Toscanini's reading (RCA), he reveals details of orchestration often overlooked by other conductors though certainly not by Muti. His matching of tempos and general pacing (though some speeds, like that for the final scene, are on the slow side) seem to me well conceived and attentive to the histrionic needs of the well-tried piece. He is supported by the Met orchestra, once more in splendid form. The chorus is, for better and worse, not Italianate, that is to say it is more precise, less wobbly than the choruses on some other versions, but also wanting a shade in pungency.

I shall not be dispensing with my Callas/Serafin set or my Caballe/Muti or the readings headed by Giannini (Sabajno) and Milanov (Perlea), all of which are well-tried, treasurable experiences. But the new contender, which has many similarities with the grandly sung Solti (down to the feeling that one is sitting rather near the brass), deserves to be heard in their company, most of all for its very special Aida.

-- Gramophone [5/1991] Reviewing original release

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Works on This Recording

Aida by Giuseppe Verdi
Performer:  Dolora Zajic (Mezzo Soprano), James Morris (Bass - Baritone), Samuel Ramey (Bass),
Aprile Millo (Soprano), Placido Domingo (Tenor)
Conductor:  James Levine
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Metropolitan Opera Chorus,  Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1871; Italy 

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