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Verdi: Aida / Mehta, Tagliavini, D’intino, Hui He, Berti, Prestia [blu-ray]

Verdi / Tagliavini / D'intino / Berti / Prestia
Release Date: 02/28/2012 
Label:  Arthaus Musik   Catalog #: 108040  
Composer:  Giuseppe Verdi
Performer:  Roberto TagliaviniMarco BertiHui HeGiacomo Prestia,   ... 
Conductor:  Zubin Mehta
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Florence Maggio Musicale OrchestraFlorence Maggio Musicale Chorus
Number of Discs: 1 
Length: 2 Hours 31 Mins. 

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Giuseppe Verdi

(Blu-ray Disc Version)

Il Re – Roberto Tagliavini
Amneris – Luicana D'Intino
Aida – Hui He
Radames – Marco Berti
Ramfis – Giacomo Prestia
Amonasro – Ambrogio Maestri
Messagero – Saverio Fiore
Sacerdotessa – Caterina Di Tonno

Fiorentino Maggio Musicale Chorus and Orchestra
(chorus master: Pietro Monti)
Zubin Mehta, conductor

Ferzan Ozpetek, stage
Read more director
Dante Ferretti, set designer
Alessandro Lai, costume designer
Maurizio Calvesi, lighting designer
Francesco Ventriglia, choreographer

Recorded live from the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Firenze, 2011

Picture format: 1080i Full-HD
Sound format: PCM Stereo / DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: Italian, English, German, French, Spanish, Korean
Running time: 151 mins
No. of Discs: 1 (BD 25)

R E V I E W:


VERDI Aida Zubin Mehta, cond; Hui He ( Aida ); Marco Berti ( Radamès ); Luciana d’Intino ( Amneris ); Roberto Tagliavini ( Re ); Giacomo Prestia ( Ramfis ); Ambrogio Maestri ( Amonasro ); Maggio Musicale Fiorentino O & C ARTHAUS MUSIK 108 040 (Blu-ray: 151:00) Live: Florence 2011

Aida was Giuseppe Verdi’s last conventional opera using traditional musical set pieces before he began experimenting with a more complex mixture of declamatory and fully engaged lyrical passages in his last two operas. Aida also has vestiges of grand opera with the triumphal processional and the interludes of dance, and of course the Egyptian setting just begs for a large stage and grandiose sets in the full Hollywood tradition. The opera has gotten more difficult to cast in recent years mainly due to a lack of Aidas, lirico spinto sopranos with a large voice and a secure top with stamina who also can sing well in the lower registers. There is also a worldwide shortage of quality tenors, and none too many contraltos.

This Blu-ray disc is from the Maggio Musicale in Florence in 2011. Florence has a brand-new opera house, but this isn’t it. This production was filmed at the Teatro Comunale, the old house with a history of acoustical problems. Zubin Mehta is the artistic director of the Maggio Musicale, and this performance was on the occasion of his 75th birthday. The austerity era had already begun in Italian opera houses before this production was realized, but the artistic team has managed to provide a fine-looking finished product with sets and costumes a bit short of the full Zeffirelli treatment, a good lesson in how to do Egypt on a budget. The primary set is three large statues of seated pharaohs, with other miscellaneous smaller statues and statue parts scattered around. It looks properly Egyptian and properly grand; I think we get to see these statues from at least three sides during the show. The other notable sets are a giant head in the triumphal scene that looks a bit like the Sphinx, only dopier, and a stone vault for the two leads to expire in during the last scene. The costumes are traditional, colorful, and quite excellent. A few artistic quirks are in evidence, presumably at the behest of stage director Ferzan Ozpetek. Amneris has a fine old time admiring herself in about 10 full-length mirrors held around her by her attendants, underlining her egocentricity and self-absorption a little obviously. Several priestesses in white gowns stand around the sacrificial calf or whatever animal it is and stab at it with knives, getting their hands all bloody during the consecration ceremony for Radames before he goes off to war. The ASPCA has been duly notified. There is no triumphal procession, no horses, chariots, elephants, marching soldiers, or even an underweight dog. Budget cuts. To fill the gap, Ozpetek has a bloody little girl, presumably one of the enemy captives, running hither and thither in a panic and finally collapsing center stage while the triumphal music plays. Aida carries her off. The battle dance that follows is also a bit aggressively unconventional, but well performed.

Musically, the Maggio Musicale forces perform pretty well. The orchestra and Mehta are old hands at this score and they play it in fine fashion. The chorus is large for Aida and this one sounds very good, although it is not given much to do other than stand there in a group and sing. Italian tenor Marco Berti as Radamès and Chinese soprano Hui He as Aida also have plenty of experience with the roles; they have sung this opera together several times and will be doing so again at the Metropolitan Opera later this fall. Both are gifted performers, although they won’t soon make us forget Luciano Pavarotti and Leontyne Price. Berti is a good tenor with an Italianate ping but also struggles to find the pitch at times and appears a bit wooden dramatically. Hui He is a fine vocal actress and carries much of the opera. She has all the voice necessary for the role but displays a rather unlovely top range. Mezzo-soprano Luciana d’Intino’s voice is no more than adequate for the role of Amneris and her acting skills are rudimentary. She seems to be from the old semaphore school, with broad, overemphasized gestures and ludicrous facial expressions. She has actually recorded this role before. The smaller male roles—the king, the priest, and the father—are all performed solidly, with a special nod to Ambrogio Maestri’s quite well-sung Amonasro.

There are three or four other Blu-ray versions of Aida now on the market, none of which I have seen. For my tastes I believe this traditional production will be more enjoyable than either the Carlo Rizzi- or Daniele Gatti-led releases reviewed recently in Fanfare , because those two are reportedly both victims of rather severe directorial excess. Stiffer competition may come from the Riccardo Chailly production from La Scala recorded immediately before tenor Roberto Alagna’s infamous walkout. (For the record, I don’t think Alagna sings “Celeste Aida” that well, either.) On DVD I would stick with the celebrated 1986 Lorin Maazel video from La Scala with Pavarotti, or the 1989 James Levine version from the Met with an equally engaged Plácido Domingo and the wonderful Dolora Zajick. I find the latter performance much better than mediocre, as characterized by James A. Altena in Fanfare 34:3. I also own the 1966 Arena di Verona version with Leyla Gencer, Carlo Bergonzi, and Fiorenza Cossotto, and find the singing quite good, although the sets indeed are tacky. This Arthaus disc comes with no bonus material; subtitles are available in German, English, French, Spanish, and Korean. The sound at times seems a little bright and resonant, but it is correctible. I am happy to add this to my collection and I recommend it, particularly to those seeking out high-definition operas.

FANFARE: Bill White
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Works on This Recording

Aida by Giuseppe Verdi
Performer:  Roberto Tagliavini (Bass), Marco Berti (Tenor), Hui He (Soprano),
Giacomo Prestia (Baritone), Ambrogio Maestri (Baritone), Luciana D'Intino (Soprano),
Saverio Fiore (Tenor)
Conductor:  Zubin Mehta
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Florence Maggio Musicale Orchestra,  Florence Maggio Musicale Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1871; Italy 

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