Top positive review
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First Rate Cast, Laughable Production, Low-end Blu-ray
on 20 February 2012
If you love this war-horse, have 20-30 recordings of it in various formats and are eager to hear it done justice to with new, relatively unfamiliar voices, this blu-ray will quench your thirst. However, if you want a big, impressive spectacle with top-notch production values in today's best technical standards look elsewhere. I'll list my observations in order of appearance, the order they hit your senses. The prelude is the most rushed and perfunctory I've heard and the orchestral playing indifferent. Mehta has been conducting this opera for about half a century. Is the message here "let's get this prelude behind us, get on with the singing and get things moving along"? I think so, because Mehta does not disappoint, his pacing is perfect and attentive and the orchestra does warm up as the production comes together and they play as if they cared (for the most part). The tenor, Marco Berti - wow, un coup de foudre! He nails the difficult "Celeste Aida" with abandon, gorgeous tone and style, great ping and a rare impression of ease, it sounds like it's a cakewalk for him and he's thrilling (no final high B-flat diminuendo - Botha goes for it on the recent MET blu-ray and for that he will inherit the glory of the kingdom of heaven to come). He's not exactly new and unfamiliar; his MET debut was in 2004, he's been around and is featured on several recordings and DVD's, but I never heard him sing that well. The rest of the evening he keeps it almost on that level, but not quite. Luciana D'intino's Amneris is good. She too has been around, her MET debut was in 2005 and with Dolora Zajick around you don't feel there is exactly a famine in Amnerislandia, but she's good, better than most Amnerises you're likely to hear today anywhere.
At this point in the performance you are hyperventilating how the Aida will turn out. I missed Hui He's MET debut as Aida so I checked her Aida on youtube, and based on what I heard I decided to purchase this blu-ray. She is first rate. When this was filmed last year she has sung Aida for 11 years including in LA , in Verona and at the MET in 2010 (scheduled to repeat it this year). I played her Ritorna vincitor twice to absorb it. She has a refulgent rich tone, solid from top to bottom; she has the style, the legato, the projection, the stamina and she nails 95% of the twists and turns of the score. The rest of the cast is good, no complaints, I enjoyed this performance.
The staging is on the traditional end of the spectrum. Within that margin it is on the low-budget end of the spectrum (this was filmed after the budget cuts in Italy). It is in fact risible, the ballets are worse than risible. The Sacred Dance of the Priestesses is disgusting. They have a huge furry beast with an open wound on the altar; a priestess stabs it repeatedly and ...ugh, I closed my eyes, I don't know how it ended, but if you read Leviticus, the part of the instructions for the priest how to perform the sacrifice, it's not much different (except that there are no priestesses in Leviticus). Wouldn't it have been nicer if they had the maidens slaughtered instead and sacrificed? However, der Herr Regisseur must come up with Ein Konzept and I think the Konzept here is that war is cruel, or just "Cruelty" (Radamès looks in the end like he was interrogated by Scarpia's henchmen). It looks like the most complicated decision der Herr Regisseur had to make in this production was whether Amonastro will eavesdrop on the lovers from the right and Amneris will surprise them from the left, or the other way around. Which one is better, actually? Has anyone ever tried having Amonastro interrupt them from the auditorium's aisle, climbing up to the stage, and have Amneris rise up from the stage floor Erda-like? A small variation of this (for bigger budgets) could have Amonastro land down to the stage from a Zeppelin. Now THAT is deep; I'm going to copyright this idea. There isn't much acting, the singers mostly stand and deliver, sometimes making funny faces. However I did glean an important detail regarding the demise of the doomed lovers in the final scene. I always thought that being executed by being "entombed alive" means that they stand and sing in the sealed underground vault until they run out of oxygen. I was wrong; this production clarifies that "A te vivo fia schiuso l'avel" means "sepolto nella sabbia", buried alive (in sand). This demonstration of the technical aspect of the execution is very useful.
The blu-ray has an average bitrate that is less than half of that of an average blu-ray. The image isn't sharp but there isn't much to look at anyway. This blu-ray is a definite top contender for your 20th or 30th Aida. But seriously, if this were the 50's or 60's, and this very cast were assembled for a carefully planned studio recording, the recording would be counted today as a Historic Performance from a Golden Age of singing.