This 2001 production of Aida
was mounted in Busseto, near to Verdis birthplace to mark the opening of his centenary year (1813-1901). The cast of young singers, all at the start of their careers, were directed by veteran Franco Zeffirelli and coached by the great Italian tenor Carlo Bergonzi. Its a handsome production, in period, with striking sets and costumes, beautifully caught on camera, mounted in the relative intimacy of the theatre which bears the composers name.
Aida is a difficult opera to stage. No other mainstream work combines the features of grand opera, parades and large crowd scenes with intimate exchanges between the main characters--the slave Aida, her father Amonasro, King of Ethiopia, Amneris, daughter of the King of Egypt and Radames, Captain of the Egyptian guards who loves Amneris and Aida. Here the home viewer can follow the machinations of the plot close up as well as witnessing the spectacle, though like most modern stagings there are no animals on parade (in fact this production makes a sizeable musical cut in this biggest of ensembles and elsewhere a short dance is omitted). The young cast show some inexperience in their acting, some gestures are overdone, others look a trifle wooden, but the singing is of a remarkably high standard led by the Aida of Adina Aaron who grows into her role, vocally speaking, and in moments of contemplation produces some very beautiful singing. Her Radames (Paolo Pecchioli) has the looks and physique for the part with lungs to match. Amneris (Kate Aldrich) also possesses winning looks, so its something of a shame that her costume hides these attributes.
On the DVD: The "making of" feature focuses on Zeffirelli, speaking in Italian and English, exhorting his singers to explore their characters and motives to the extent that we hear not a word from other members of the production team, which in the case of Bergonzi is a great shame. The secure playing of the orchestra of the Arturo Toscanini foundation under the firm baton of Massimiliano Stefanelli comes up well in the Dolby Digital or DTS sound options, while the video direction makes the most of the setting. No one looking for a traditional staging of Aida will be disappointed with this two-disc set.--Adrian Edwards