After watching this excellent, exciting performance, I went to the booklet that accompanies the DVD to see who the performers were. Much to my surprise, I discovered that they were all in their mid-twenties when the opera was staged in 2001. In fact, it was the director and stage designer, Franco Zeffirelli who
"... organized the production as a workshop for talented young performers who are to be opera's future". The soloists received "... intensive tuition [sic] in singing..." from legendary tenor Carlo Bergonzi, arguably the best interpreter of Verdi's tenor roles in second half of the 20th century.
The opera was staged as part of the commemorative of the 100th anniversary of Verdi's death in his home town of Busseto, in the tiny Teatro Giuseppe Verdi. When the opera opened with shots of a small stage and a small orchestra, I thought that I had made a mistake in buying this disc.
I had not! The performance is totally captivating from beginning to end. Large scale Aida comes across very well in a small setting, where the focus is on character and not spectacle. Everything about this performance works splendidly to present Aida in a way that I had not experienced before.
And these "talented young performers"? How did they manage the very demanding vocal roles? Like seasoned professionals! Adina Aaron carries the title role with near perfection, and my most memorable Aida was Leontyne Price! Aaron not only sings beautifully, from her first note to her last, with no sign of strain or fatigue, but she can really act. Kate Aldrich nearly steals the show as Amneris, the daughter of the King: she is beautiful and sings with incredible sensitivity, suppleness and perfect technique -- and she, too, can act. Tenor Scott Piper sings the role of Radames with great elan; his spinto voice is a bit lighter than some of the dramatic tenors who sing this role, but it is a fresh, lyrical voice that never tires or strains. Bergonzi's mentoring was demonstrated very well indeed, in Mr. Piper's case. Baritone Giuseppe Garra sings the role of Amonasro with total conviction and with fantastic voice. Conductor Massimiliano Stefanelli conducts with authority and sensitivity; he observes all of Verdi's dynamic markings, thus making the intimacy of this performance very immediate.
The disc quality is first rate, with great digital picture, and sound that can be played in the DTS mode, for a fantastic sonic experience. TDK Mediactive has issued several operas lately, and all that I have seen are simply wonderful, without exception. They use European productions, where expectations of operatic excellence are high.
When I purchased this disc, I was looking for a well sung, authoritive, recent performance, without the vocally very tired presence of Domingo or Pavarotti. I was looking for a combination of authentic Verdi combined with outstanding picture and sound qualities. I found them.
If you are looking for a fresh yet well performed version of one of opera's fundamental works, you cannot do much better than this.