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Open-Air Production from St. Margarethen Festival

Eszter Sümegi · Kostadin Andreev · Cornelia Helfricht
Pier Dalas · Janusz Monarcha
Chorus, Corps de Ballet & Orchestra of the National Theatre Brno/Ernst Märzendorfer

Directed for Stage by Robert Herzl; for TV by Rudi Dolezal and Hannes Rossacher

EuroArts 2054059 [16:9, TT: 150 mins]

For the Grand Premiere in Cairo, 1871 to celebrate the opening of the Suez Canal, conductor Giovanni Bottesini personally financed a menagerie of animals for the Act II Triumphal March of Aida, including 12 elephants, 15 camels and zebras, giraffes, lions, ostriches, jackals, baboons, and rodents - but only the elephants and camels actually made it onto the stage.

This DVD recording, taken live from the converted Roman quarry which is the setting for the St. Margarethen summer festival in Austria, has magnificent horses, one of them galloping away with the Amneris on its back, and there are, too, elephants for Radames' more sedate entrance to celebrate his victory - which quickly turns sour because of the love triangle which entraps him.

It must give a good idea of how that premiere would have dazzled those fortunate to be present, but this production in Austria, and the DVD, boasts additionally all the advantages of modern technology. The sets are magnificent and open to new vistas; during the interval after Act 2 there is a splendid firework show.

The cast of 400 is led by Eszter Sümegi (pictured) as the eponymous heroine and the Brno opera company is greatly impressive; not one Italian principal, but all the parts are taken well to excellently. The show drives away thoughts of classic interpretations of the roles.

But for Musical Pointers the chief miracle is the quality of the sound reproduction in support of the fine camera work; electro-acoustic amplification of which you are completely unaware whilst watching and listening at home.

Robert Herzl's essay about presenting Aida is interesting but we are told nothing about the interesting cast. This Aida is an achievement to cap even the Salzburg spectaculars in sheer entertainment value and it is good to have it perpetuated on DVD; next summer at Margarethen, Carmen.

The Opera Critic has reviews of the live production at Margarethen (in German only). Mine of Aida at La Scala (Pavarotti, DVD) and of the radical live productions by David Pountney and Robert Wilson will demonstrate the scope of Aida productions to be seen in recent years.

Many collectors will relish the traditional no-expenses-spared approach at St. Margarethen, which succeeds in maintaining interest in the interactions of the soloists despite the surrounding magnificence, which could have been distracting and trivialised in other hands.

In contrast with frequent absurdities elsewhere, the intimacy and inwardness of the final scene, with Radames and Aida immured in a vault below the temple of Vulcan, reaching each other to clasp hands before dying, with Amneris kneeling and praying above their tomb, is exceptionally moving; a triumph of Robert Herzl's imaginative staging, which successfully reconciles all the disparities of this unique opera (c.p. Pavarotti and Chiara at La Scala*).

Don't pass this version by even if you think you have enough Aidas in your collection!

*- - The final scene at La Scala is ludicrous; the fugitive Aida returns to share death in her full regalia and the picture is of the couple in their death throes, immured in the tomb and seen shortly before expiring. It was hard to feel that lack of food or air would figure for a very long time in the vast dungeon built on the Scala's stage. - -


© Peter Grahame Woolf