(This review applies to the full 3 CD set - which I urge you to buy over this highlight disc)
There are so many good recordings of "Aida" available and I own - and play - eight of them, but I keep coming back to this one as my favourite. This might partly be for purely personal reasons: it was one of the first sets I bought when as a nineteen year old I was just discovering opera and I still recall the sense of transported wonder I first experienced listening to that magical, moonlit Nile music; then just after that I was able to hear most of the artists on this recording live at Covent Garden and that cemented my preference for this version. Even though Caballe did not much look the part of a lissom Ethiopian princess, her voice did all the work as she spun those delicate pianissimi to every corner of the auditorium. And those almost unearthly high notes, sung "con un fil di voce" are still the chief glory of this set, despite all its other merits. Domingo is here more animated and richer voiced than in almost any other of his recordings and the supporting cast is very fine, even if Cappuccilli, for all his long-breathed eloquence, cannot match Gobbi for nuance. Cappuccilli could at times be a lazy singer who simply went through the motions, but Muti's taut, detailed direction clearly inspired him here. Cossotto produces precisely the kind of searing tour de force I recall so vividly from the live performance; she is anguished and terrifying in her rage and grief. Ghiaurov is sonorous, grave and implacable as the High Priest; Roni sturdy and regal as the King.
It is true that Caballe is not really entirely vocally suited to the eponymous leading role - it is a little big for her and she is occasionally clearly stretched at the grandest moments - but her artistry and commitment are such that she makes you believe she is right for it. The orchestra play with both power and delicacy for Muti who skilfully balances the intimate sections of the score against the massive exaltation of the crowd scenes. I like other sets very much, too, such as Price's later one with Leinsdorf and the earlier Tebaldi (see my review), but this is the best in a crowded field - and it's in superior sound, too.