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Verdi - Aida

Aida: Cheryl Studer [pictured]
Amneris: Luciana d’Intino
Radames: Dennis O’Neill
Amonasro: Alexandru Agache
High Priest: Robert Lloyd

The Royal Opera Chorus/The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/Edward Downes
Stage Director: Elijah Moshinsky
TV Director: Brian Large

Royal Opera House, London 1994

Opus Arte OAR3104D [16:9; 151 Mins]

It is good to have this classic Covent Garden production of Aida back in circulation.

Cheryl Studer is the star, but the supporting team is strong, if each one not the greatest on record. It goes well for home viewing, the camera helping to making both the spectacular and the intimate aspects of the most grandiose of Verdi's opera (composed for the opening of the Suez Canal) strongly realised in one's own home, though the actual sets are noticeably rudimentary and the costumes a mixture which does not try too hard for authenticity. At times suspension of disbelief is called for as some reviews to be found on the web make clear. The acting is strong if not subtle and the principals can take the close-ups.

Edward Downes achieves a judicious balance between the bombast and refinement of this great score. It is good to see his no-nonsense conducting style and the orchestra is allowed full power and recorded in proper balance with the singers, not always so on DVDs.

In my youth (and Edward Downes') few of Verdi's operas were known and rated in UK - in 1948 I reviewed at Sadlers Wells the first British performance of Simone Boccenegra [Edward Dent Verdi in English].

In the 1990s Downes devised a plan to perform all of Verdi’s 28 operas in time for the centenary of the composer’s death in 2001. It was never quite completed. - - "Covent Garden should surely make The Sicilian Vespers, one of the great problematic pieces in the repertoire, a priority. Judging Downes’s current vigour and energy, it would make an entirely worthy 85th birthday celebration." [Guardian 2004]

We have seen and reviewed many Aidas over the years, live and on DVD. Our response to this one is far more positive than to the costlier Pavarotti/Chiara at La Scala. For radical interpretations, read our take on productions by David Pountney (also with Dennis O'Neill) and Robert Wilson in Brussels, a pared down, but highly sophisticated co-production with Covent Garden.

But for the real thing, there is a gorgeous version from the St. Margarethen summer festival in Austria. For the Cairo premiere a menagerie of animals including 12 elephants, 15 camels and zebras, giraffes etc was assembled for the Act II Triumphal March - but only the elephants and camels actually made it onto the stage. St Margarethen had elephants for Radames' entrance and magnificent horses, one of them galloping away with Amneris on its back.

The background information in this series is basic, but the disc can be found for purchase on line at a very reasonable price. The quality of Verdi's music ensures that there'll always be room for another Aida in your collection.

Peter Grahame Woolf