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Giuseppe Verdi: Aida

A review from Gramophone, January 1989

You won't hear a more idiomatically sung performance of this oft-recorded (and successfully so) work in the catalogue. The voices are generous and truly Italianate, and their owners project the well-trod drama as to the manner born. Tebaldi's Aida is in the central tradition, now almost lost (though some Americans, notably Vaness and Millo, seem to be reviving it), of reading the role in broadly sculpted phrases and full, spinto tone, though she also offers almost as refined pianissimo singing as Milanov on her Perlea/RCA set and here evinces almost as much dramatic involvement as Callas (Serafin/EMI) in her version. Sometimes at forte the tone seems a little forced and edgy, but those moments are few. Simionato is at once a powerful and sensitive Amneris in a tradition that is also on the wane. Though I find Barbieri more incisive and involving on both her recordings (Serafin/EMI and Perlea/RCA) the margin in her favour is small.

Many now think that Radames was originally intended, pre-Caruso, for a more lyrical voice than we have become accustomed to in the role and Bergonzi certainly makes that point. He sings it in a stylistically faultless manner, with long-breathed phrases and attention to Verdi's dynamics. Who could want more? Possibly Domingo's extra involvement in his recordings (Muti/ EMI, Abbado/DG, Leinsdorf/RCA) or Bjorling's additional panache for Perlea. MacNeil at his best as here, was always the most telling of the Italian-orientated American baritones and he sings with a deal more passion than he sometimes showed elsewhere. The two basses, though they have presence, aren't paragons of steadiness, but as a whole this is, from the point of view of casting, an excellent version.

Why then do I hesitate to recommend it even at mid price? Well, in a word, Karajan. I hadn't remembered that even at this comparatively early stage in his operatic recordings he favoured such extremes of speed, some of them far slower than Verdi wanted. Throughout the performance veers between being stiff-limbed and over active: those Karajan outbursts of double forte that so disfigure some of his EMI opera sets are already disturbing here. At one point in the Triumphal scene a line from Simionato gets completely overlaid. The playing is often sensuously beautiful with the VPO on their best form, but that cannot rescue the misdirection of the reading as a whole. Also, as on later Karajan sets, the voices are too recessed vis a vis the orchestra. I found the sound wanting in atmosphere (digital remastering at fault?), and there is some residue tape hiss. I wouldn't choose this in preference to either Serafin or Muti, or Perlea as my first recommendation but the singing is most persuasive.



Aida: Renata Tebaldi
Radames: Carlo Bergonzi
Amneris: Giulietta Simionato
Amonasro: Cornell MacNeil
Ramfis: Arnold van Mill
King: Fernando Corena
Messenger: Piero de Palma
Priestess: Eugenia Ratti

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Vienna Singverein
Herbert von Karajan

Decca 460 978-2


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