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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
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The picture is stunning as is the sound.I find the scenery a bit puzzling as it differs from any other videos I possess.For example it is quite unlike the ones featuring Chiara and Martinucci and Bergonzi and Gencer both recorded in Verona.
I cannot fault the singing.Big Pav was never one of my favourite tenors,rating him below e.g Corelli,Bergonzi,Bonisolli to name a few.Here his voice is awesome as is his singing.A reviewer has commented on his just standing and delivering.But the role is such that in the main there are not many opportunities.He could have been a bit more ardent in the Nile Scene,but let's be frank they were not very compatible physically.The costume he had to wear did nothing to diminish his gargantuan physique either.Nontheless great singing!
Chiara in her mid 40s is still beautiful and her singing is top class.She has been termed the successor to Tebaldi-Not for me.She did not possess a voice comparable to that great soprano,but probably had an easier top and her O Patria Mia is thrilling handling the exposed top C without any problem.
I found Dimitrova awesome-what a voice-what power!This is my first experience of her visually and she had a very commanding presence.
Pons sings and acts the role of Amonasro very well and suitably conveys his fury at his daughters refusal to co-operate in deceiving Radames.
Finally Ghiaurov is his usual Majestic Ramphis with voice to match.
The Orchestra under Maazel makes a wonderful sound.It has to be 5 Stars.
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)
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