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14 September 2005

Aida

Music: Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto: Antonio Ghislanzoni
Performers: Montserrat Caballé (Aida), Plácido Domingo (Radamés), Fiorenza Cossotto (Amneris), Nicolai Ghiaurov (Ramfis); Riccardo Muti conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra, London, 1974

Want to know the plot? Click here.

This one needs to be seen, not just heard. While I admit this is true about any opera, where the images and actions on stage would add significantly to the music, I felt particularly bereft of visuals here. This is the first opera I've heard where entire sections were devoted to dances and ballets, and several prominent choral arrangements were featured throughout. The costumes and sets on a production that glorifies the mythic/imagined splendor of ancient Egypt would be really enthralling and spectacular.

Although this is a star-crossed love story between the slave girl (daughter of the Ethiopian king) Aida and the captain of the Egyptian forces, the two main characters spend no "private time" together until act three (of three). Until then, we have to take it on faith that they have had adequate opportunity to fall in love with each other. However, once they do come together, their love duets are gorgeous. The harmonies are lush and powerful, with beautiful emotion and clarity of feeling. In particular, "Fuggiam gli andori inospiti" and "O terra addio" are just wonderful.

Another striking duet takes place between Radamés and Amneris, the daughter of the Egyptian king whose unrequited love fuels her jealous hatred of Aida. The scene they share - "Già i sacerdoti adunansi" (in which Amneris offers to save Radamés from his fate as a traitor) - is tense and powerfully performed. Amneris turns from would-be lover to spiteful wretch when Radamés refuses her, but her heart is broken because she stands to lose him either way - to Aida or to death at the hands of the vengeful Egyptian leadership.

One aspect of this performance that stood out for me was the mezzo-soprano who sang the part of Amneris, Fiorenza Cossotto. While other singers, such as Caballé (Spanish) and Domingo (Mexican), enunciate their Italian-language roles with clean, distinct, artificial pronunciations, Cossotto was so obviously a native speaker of Italian. Her words flowed together with a soft, natural enchantment, to the point where I would regularly lose my place in the libretto when she sang. While this proved a little more difficult than hearing the in-di-vi-du-al syllables of the non-native speakers, her intonation was more subtle and appealing.

While not as powerful or striking overall as Tosca, for example, the duets featured in act three were memorable experiences.

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