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Verdi: Aida [DVD] 
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Egypt and Ethiopia are at war. Radames is appointed commander of the Egyptian forces by the King, whose daughter, Amneris, loves Radames. It is in fact Amneris' Ethiopian slave Aida whom Radames loves. Ramades wins the war against the Ethiopians, capturing Aida's father Amonasro in the process. On his return to Egypt he faces a choice between marrying Amneris or betraying his country through his love for Aida. This new production was a triumphant success when it opened at La Scala in December 1985 and Luciano Pavarotti's long awaited performance as Radames, his first in Italy, was greeted with rapturous applause.
La Scala went all-out for its 1986 production of this grandest of grand operas, with a strong cast and--most important for a video recording--a larger-than-life staging. The Triumph Scene in Act II is by no means Aida's only attraction, but it is the part that makes the strongest and most lasting impression and it is the visual and musical climax of this production. Stage director Ronconi brings on a procession to dwarf all processions: looted treasures, heroic statuary, miserable captives struggling under the lash of whip-bearing slave-drivers. On par with these visuals is Lorin Maazel's first-class performance of the popular "Grand March" with the outstanding La Scala chorus and orchestra. In Act III, the contrasting tranquillity of the Nile Scene also gets a visual treatment to match the music's qualities.
When it is not an epic spectacle, Aida is a tragic story of love, jealousy and horrible revenge. The shifting focus between vast spectacle and intimate moments-sometimes awkward in a live performance onstage--presents special opportunities and challenges for a video recording. In this Aida, the camera work shows an acute awareness of those opportunities and challenges. The soloists have a variety of strengths that outweigh a few small weaknesses. Luciano Pavarotti sings one of his signature roles in superb voice, but his weight problems are visually evident and detract from his impact as the dashing hero Radames. Maria Chiara has moments of vocal imperfection but gives a dramatically compelling performance. Ghena Dimitrova sings powerfully and the supporting cast is excellent throughout. --Joe McLellan, Amazon.com --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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However, the draw for this particular package was supposed to be the contemporaneous South Bank Show (BBC, hosted by Melvyn Bragg), entitled 'Aïda File - The Making of Aïda', which unfortunately has great chunks of untranslated (or un-subtitled) Italian by such personages as Carlo Bergonzi, Renata Tebaldi, Pierluigi Petrobelli and the production's director, Luca Ronconi). Why there are no subtitles or English voice-overs I have no idea. But there you are. Frustrating in the extreme for this monolingual American viewer, I can tell you.
If you understand Italian this package might be for you. Otherwise I'd suggest, if you're interested in owning this particular production, that you buy one of the stand-alone version, without the documentary.
Running time: Opera 160 mins, Documentary 72 mins; Sound: PCM Stereo, Dolby digital; Opera subtitles: German, English, French, Dutch, Spanish; Format: 4:3; Region Code: 0 (worldwide)
OK, Pavarotti was already overweight, but his voice was at its peak. While he stands stiffly, Chiara and Dimitrova not only sing gloriously but also act superbly.
There is indeed a lot of statue-shifting by the slaves but I've never seen such a huge cast so magnificently directed shifting such remarkable scenery on such a large stage. By the way, the ladies and boys, in Act II, are not naked as claimed by another reviewer -- they are wearing something, even if it's not very much.
As for the Italian language spoken in the documentary, yes, I too was disappointed that there are no sub-titles. But that is no reason to reject the whole thing. For a start, we hear the beautiful Yorkshire diction of Melyvn Bragg, who is always worth listening to. We hear snatches of some of the great singers of the past, such as Gigli and Martinelli. And we are taken to many of the places associated with Verdi and the opera, and shown many contemporary documents.
This is not a bargain basement set of DVDs but well worth buying, I reckon.
And so to this Aida that La Scala (thankfully) preserved for posterity. Surely it is one to hold up as a standard for it is beautifully sung by the principles and sympathetically backed up by the maestro and his orchestra in the pit. The musical part of this dvd easily holds it's own against any cd recording. Yes some would argue that the acting is not up to scratch compared to other Aidas on dvd but that would be to miss that the singing here is finer. And the La Scala staging is sumptuous feast for the eyes.
Yes Pavarotti may be a hundred pounds more than the ideal Radames would be but here we have him in his prime producing a thrilling timbre and an open top. And the two leading ladies Dimitrova and Chiara carry their parts ably. Maazel, too, plays his part leading the orchestra and chorus into shaping a performance that is never ponderous yet seemingly always providing time for certain passages to linger on. (Listen to Aida when she sings "Numi, pieta del mio soffrir" as a prime example of this.)
There are other Aidas on dvd but this is one to have first and foremost for the musical content.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Perfect gift for a close friend, who has long wanted to seethe opera but is unable to travel.to the theatresPublished on 27 Dec. 2013 by Bill Faulkner
I have to confess I have not watched much of Verdi so I do not have enough knowledge to compare and contrast. I also was watching sub titles the firt time through. Read morePublished on 13 July 2013 by bernie
The DVD market bulges with productions of this famous tragedy but pride of place should go to this 1985 production from La Scala. Read morePublished on 22 April 2012 by trottman
I was looking to replace my fuzzy 1981 recording of Maria Chiara's performance at the Arena di Verona, and decided to take a risk with her 1985 performance recorded at La Scala... Read morePublished on 24 Jan. 2012 by epigramophone