Giuseppe Verdi – Aida
CAST: Anja Harteros: Aida, Jonas Kaufmann: Radames, Amneris: Ekaterina Semenchuk, Amonasro: Ludovic Tézier, Ramfis: Erwin Schrott, Il Re d’Egitto: Marco Spotti, Messaggero: Paolo Fanale, Sacerdotessa: Eleonora Buratto
Orchestra e Coro dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
Chorus Master: Ciro Visco
with the participation of the Banda Musicale della Polizia di Stato
Director: Maurizio Billi
Antonio Pappano, conductor
Warner Classics, 2015
Aida is one of those operas that boast a successful and wide discography, with all the pros and cons that this causes for the performers and the listeners, putting more and more pressure on the former and making increasingly demanding the latter. In the case of the present Aida, a studio recording released by Warner Classics in 2015, the strong point has been the choice of an ingenious conductor, Antonio Pappano, and of an authoritative Radames, Jonas Kaufmann. Together, they have solved the problem of expressing something new in this famous opera and stand out almost alone above the rest of the cast.
Pappano is definitely in his element and the new colours and atmospheres that he finds for this opera seem nothing but natural. The new elements appear from the Preludio, where the conductor depicts with extreme clarity the most delicate nuances and their climax, that prelude to the energy that characterizes the troubled moments and the limpid sound of the quietest ones.
Some of the most notable moments of Pappano’s conduction correspond to the pivotal ones. He emphasizes the rivalry between Aida and Amneris in all the possible ways and the menace hanging over the Ethiopian slave from the meeting in the first act (in the terzetto with Radames), which becomes a precedent for the explosion in the duet in Act II (notably when Amneris menaces «Trema, o vil schiava!»). It is also worth remembering Su! del Nilo al sacro lido, which is a glorious march, the poetry of Rivedrai le foreste imbalsamate, the despair that grips Amneris in her last scene in Act IV and the moving end evoked by Morir sì pura e bella in the last scene of Act IV. Pappano’s conduction can be considered a miracle and an interpretation that can be rightly counted among the greatest.
For his part, Jonas Kaufmann is an ideal Radames and creates his character without ever forgetting his balance between private aspirations and public duty. With his dark voice, almost baritonal in colour, he gives to Radames a deep dimension and finds any occasion to express new feelings, something that has an hypnotical effect. These features emerge in the famous aria of at the beginning of the opera, Celeste Aida, as well as in other moments, as in Pur ti riveggo, mia dolce Aida (Act III) and in La fatal pietra (last scene of Act IV). This last, in particular, is remarkable for the funereal comment of the approaching death, but it remains Celeste Aida the true test-bed. The attack of the recitative Se quel guerrier io fossi! is a little pushed, but Kaufmann finds his balance again from the next sentence («se il mio sogno si avverasse») and then he never wanders from the perfect equilibrium between the heroism of the warrior and the tenderness of the lover (listen for example to the expression of «a te, mia dolce Aida»), elements that merge in the sacred devotion of Celeste Aida, that is sung as a prayer.
The rest of the cast pales in comparison with these two giants and becomes a little paler if you remember (as it is inevitable) the many examples of great singers who performed Aida in a more or less remoted past. This is the case of Anja Harteros, who sings the title role, and of Ekaterina Semenchuk in the shoes of her rival Amneris.
Harteros is a correct but never persuasive Aida, who contented herself to sing all the notes. Her voice is not particularly precious, but the real problem is that, even if she cannot be never considered cold, she is never enthralling and sometimes it seems that she is singing only for herself, as it happens in Ritorna vincitor! or in the long scene with Amonasro, where there is only the cautious expression of a certain acquiescence.
Semenchuk is another matter and I dare to say that, if I heard her in a lesser known opera, I would have been satisfied with her performance. She is definitely more likable than Harteros and it is remarkable that, when the conductor gives her a hint (as in her great in Act IV and especially from A lui vivo la tomba! to the end), she welcomes it immediately and skilfully develops it. She shows great energy and assurance and she lacks is just a little more fire, in particular when she quarrels or menaces Aida.
Ludovic Tézier as Amonasro does not give the character the regalia of a king who, moreover, never considers himself as a prisoner, but makes a strong impression and his temperament allows him to give full justice to the impeto selvaggio (“wild rush”) of Su! Dunque sorgete, Egizie coorti!
Second lead characters as Ramfis (sung by Erwin Schrott) and the King (Marco Spotti) are instead completely disappointing in the great scene that begins with Alta cagion v’aduna because both of them do not have the authority of the two highest offices of the ancient Egypt – and not even the notes, as they are usually tone-deaf in their respective parts.
This Aida presents therefore an imbalance in favour of the conductor and of the tenor, while the other singers are not at the same level. Although the perfect opera will never exist, it is anyway upsetting to find such difference in the same production. It is left to your preference to decide if it is enough to have one or two virtually impeccable roles and conduction and other that do not add anything to what has been performed so far or to prefer a lower standard with singers of almost equal level. This is the great dichotomy of this Aida.