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 Luca 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 tranquility 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
This magnificent production of Verdi's much-loved masterpiece 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. In this live recording of that same production, Pavarotti heads an exceptional cast with Ghena Dimitrova, Maria Chiara, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Paata Burchuladze, and Juan Pons all in peak form. Lorin Maazel's reading of the score shows a rare understanding of Verdi's music. Verdi wrote Aida
in response to a request by the Khedive of Egypt for an opera with authentic Egyptian flavor to open the Cairo Opera House in 1871. The opera's appeal was immediate and lasting, with this production capturing perfectly the imposing grandeur of the land of the pharaohs and the ochre hues of the desert. It is an ideal setting for the magnificent spectacle of the opera, which combines so consummately with the drama of human emotion, played out in Radames's love for the slave girl Aida and the jealousy of Amneris, daughter of the Egyptian king. In Italian with English subtitles. 160 minutes.