Notes and Editorial Reviews
Franco Capuana, cond; Gabriella Tucci (
); Mario del Monaco (
); Giulietta Simionato (
); Aldo Protti (
); NHK Italian Op Ch; Tokyo Broadcasting Ch; NHK SO
VIDEO ARTISTS INTERNATIONAL
4420, mono (DVD: 162:00) Broadcast: Tokyo
Everything that was great and not so great about the “good old days” is on display here. Those who want to know why geezers like us keep talking about a type of Verdi singing that one simply doesn’t hear today will learn all they need to know by watching this
. Those who complain about old-fashioned simplistic staging, with singers using semaphore signaling with their arms to resemble acting, will find evidence here to back up their views as well. To be honest, on balance, I’ll take those days in a heartbeat—problems and all.
This is a black and white telecast of one night in a Tokyo theater, with the La Scala production and cast being wedded to a Japanese chorus and ballet company and produced with utter simplicity for television. It looks as if there were three cameras, perhaps four at most, shots are held for a long time, there are no subtle visual effects, and clearly the lighting on stage is insufficient for the cameras of 1961, so the screen is often too dark. It is particularly hard to find Aida and Radamès in the tomb if they wander out of the spotlight. In addition, there are elements to the stage production that are appalling, none more so than the blackface Aldo Protti finds himself in as the Ethiopian king. It would not have surprised me if he burst into “Mammy,” or some other Al Jolson minstrel specialty! (Aida looks a bit funky too).
But once you can get through these problems, there is a performance of Verdi’s great opera that one would kill to encounter today. Perhaps the single greatest performance is Simionato’s Amneris—a portrayal for the ages. VAI’s notes say that it “is a piece of operatic history captured by the television camera, a luminous performance by a singing actress with few peers.” That is not an exaggeration. She marries physical acting to vocal acting to great singing in the grand manner.
Del Monaco is the other star, and he is a thrilling Radamès despite the fact that by 1961 he was already past his best vocal years. He does manage to sing softly when required, but it is clearly a strain, and some phrases, particularly in
, are short breathed and not rounded off. But still, we would kill for a heroic tenor sound like this today. The voice rings out at the end of the third act in a manner that is primal and thrilling, and his unique
is satisfying throughout the opera. His acting is perhaps the most unformed of anyone on stage, and it doesn’t matter.
Tucci was not a star in her day, but that is because she overlapped with singers like Callas, Tebaldi, de los Angeles, Price, Kirsten, and Caballé at different points of her career. Today she would be
spinto soprano of opera stages worldwide. In addition to her two commercial recordings (
with del Monaco and
with Corelli), a great 1962 Met
broadcast with Corelli, Dalis, and MacNeil has long been a favorite with collectors (Myto 024.271). It is great to have this opportunity to see her in action in one of her great roles. Her acting is a bit obvious, but heartfelt, and her floated
and innately perfect phrasing, along with the generous glow to her tone, make this an important Aida portrayal. Her scene with Amneris is filled with sparks.
The big surprise for me was Aldo Protti. Long known as the weak link on some Decca opera sets with del Monaco, where we would have preferred Warren, Guelfi, Gobbi, Bastianini, or Merrill, he comes across here as a very strong Amonasro. Again one feels that he suffered from too much truly great competition, but would be an important Verdi baritone in today’s world. It is true that his singing is a bit blustery, lacking the variety of inflection one finds in great exponents of this role—but it is a strong, healthy voice and he makes a real impact.
Capuana conducts with a natural feel for the style, and the orchestra and chorus perform well enough—except for the trumpets in the triumphal scene and occasional slips between stage and pit. (Tucci makes one early entrance too, but catches herself). The ballet scenes are probably worth skipping past, and the costumes have nothing to do with what actual Egyptians wore. And those 1960s hairstyles—!
But please, please, please, don’t let those comments dissuade you. This is what grand opera should be about; and frankly, as much as one can complain about some of the visual absurdities, they are much less distracting than the Eurotrash productions that mark so much of today’s operatic world. This is an honest attempt to put across with deep conviction and an innate feel for the idiom one of Verdi’s greatest operas in a performance of sweep, drama, and vocal greatness. As such, it is a picture of a time in history that many of us would love to have back.
FANFARE: Henry Fogel
Subtitles in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish. Live 1961, B&W, 165 minutes, all regions Read less
Works on This Recording
Aida by Giuseppe Verdi
Gabriela Tucci (Soprano),
Mario Del Monaco (Tenor),
Giulietta Simionato (Mezzo Soprano),
Aldo Protti (Baritone)
NHK Symphony Orchestra Tokyo
Written: 1871; Italy
Date of Recording: 1961
Venue: Tokyo, Japan
Notes: The 1961 La Scala production tour live performance, filmed in Tokyo.
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