Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

Ira Siff
Opera News, October 2010

VERDI, G.: Aida (Bregenz Festival, 2009) (NTSC) 702308
VERDI, G.: Aida (Bregenz Festival, 2009) (Blu-ray, HD) 702404

Much thought, work and impressive technical engineering went into this Aida, which played on the spectacular floating stage of the Bregenz Festival in 2009. Director Graham Vick’s concept creates a parallel between ancient Egypt and the contemporary U.S. Set and costume designer Paul Brown uses large cranes to lift enormous objects that are resonant symbols of both eras, representing a powerful society enslaving faceless captives.

Despite the obvious effort—and cost—that went into this enterprise, and a few striking visual images, the overall effect is one of an opera enslaved to an idea. While the huge set is not lost in the vast outdoor setting of the Bodensee, Verdi’s opera drowns in heavy-handed visual imagery. To make matters worse, the score has been cut to fit into the time constraints of the festival. Among the unfortunate excisions are half of “O patria mia” and sections of duets for Aida and Amneris with one another and Radamès.

Perhaps most successful in the array of visuals is the powerful opening image of the lovers, Aida and Radamès, entwined in an embrace, being fished out of the water; what follows is then treated as a flashback. Vick’s subsequent ideas are loaded politically and sociologically, but their ties to the drama are questionable. Amneris enters with two slaves on a leash being walked on all fours. All the captives wear black sacks over their heads (faceless, get it?). A bevy of blond-wigged Barbies is in attendance in Amneris’s boudoir, abusing hunky slaves who look like Calvin Klein underwear models. Egyptian priests are costumed more like Catholic bishops. (Here Verdi’s lack of regard for the church gets a nod.) The defeated Ethiopian forces are clothed in orange P.O.W. outfits. A gigantic, fragmented Statue of Liberty rises out of the sea. This last touch—although theatrically impressive and thought-provoking—feels less powerful than it should, because it has followed so many representations of American kitsch, greed and conquest.

Vick is far more successful when the drama turns from public to private. In the Act III confrontation of Aida and Amonasro, arguably the centerpiece of the opera, Vick directs his father–daughter team with dramatic assurance and searing power, going directly to the heart—both personal and political—of Verdi’s drama. This is basically the only time the characters do not seem dwarfed by what surrounds them, and the effect is thrilling.

Another impressive aspect of this performance is the willingness of the cast to give everything and try anything in the service of the production—including frequent immersion in water. The singing is not quite up to the level of the dramatic conviction, but it is, notwithstanding a few spotty moments, not bad. Tatiana Serjan is an Aida somewhat light of voice, but she attacks the role fearlessly, and the lyric quality of her instrument supplies the difficult piano moments often lost with heavier voices. She looks every bit the contemporary refugee woman and acts believably. Verging more on caricature, Iano Tamar’s Amneris is the image of the spoiled rich-girl. Her error is in “playing evil” in almost every line reading, even when sweet-talking Aida. Tamar fares better in the judgment scene, where she cuts loose, and has an easy time with the high B-flats. She is a soprano Amneris, not a mezzo—although she still manages to blow the high A at the end of the scene, in the great tradition of many mezzos! Lyric tenor Rubens Pelizzari finds Radamès too heavy a role, his basically attractive instrument stretched beyond its limits. One might understand this casting choice were his acting in any way acceptable. Baritone Iain Paterson offers solid vocalism and a powerful portrayal as Amonasro; his contribution to the Nile scene is key in making it the highlight of the show. Basses Tigran Martirossian and Kevin Short do well by Ramfis and the King, respectively, while Elisabetta Martorana’s richly vocalized High Priestess suffers a bit from droopy intonation.

Carlo Rizzi leads an energetic performance, at times sounding rushed, as if he were playing beat-the-clock against Bregenz’s midnight closure of public transportation (probably not far from the truth). The Wiener Symphoniker plays well, and the various choruses sound impressive; the lack of coordination between stage and pit is so frequent, one can only chalk it up to a liability of the venue.

Brian Wilson
MusicWeb International, September 2010

VERDI, G.: Aida (Bregenz Festival, 2009) (NTSC) 702308
VERDI, G.: Aida (Bregenz Festival, 2009) (Blu-ray, HD) 702404

I have to admit that the set is spectacular: I’m sure that being there was an unforgettable experience, with ships on the lake gradually fading out of view as darkness descends. If you relish great spectacle in Aïda, the set will probably appeal to you...Seeing the dead lovers hauled dripping from the water at the opening is a spectacular plus, though it also alerts us to one of the many unconventional aspects of the production, in that they are not buried alive. To quote the booklet, “in the present production [Radamès] is…seen on an Egyptian funeral barge on his way to the afterlife.”...The prime point of any opera recording must surely be the quality of the singing: I certainly have no major complaints on this score... Iain Paterson gives a strong account of Aïda’s father...Kevin Short as the King also makes a good impression, as does Tigran Martirossian as Ramphis the High Priest.

The three choruses acquit themselves well: the Camerata Silesia under their Chorus Master Anna Szostak, the Polish Radio Choir Kraków under Wlodzimierz Siedlik, and the Bregenzer Festspielchor under Benjamin Lack...The dancers and stunt performers also deserve an honourable mention—too numerous to list here, but they are all credited in the booklet. Full marks to them for disporting in the water—it can’t have been fun, though we’re told that they enjoyed cooling down after a hot day...The Vienna Symphony Orchestra may be no match for their more distinguished rivals, the Vienna Philharmonic, but they too acquit themselves well enough here for there to be no real complaint...The new recording is abridged...I understand that productions at Bregenz are limited to two hours, so there was no option but to omit much of the ballet music and the Triumphal Scene in particular...The main action takes place on a series of monumental steps, topped at first by a pair of blue feet with star-spangling. Later these will be seen to be the wreck of the Statue of Liberty, with other segments of the statue joining them, as shown on the cover. If there is a message here, perhaps, it is that is that the USA now possesses the hegemony that Egypt once did but that its days are numbered in the manner of Shelley’s comment on the faded glories of Egypt in Ozymandias...The costumes are spectacular...The Unitel recording is amazingly good, given all the problems that the venue must have presented...

Lawrence Devoe, August 2010

Giuseppe Verdi meets “Waterworld?” The Bregenz Festival presents an entire rethinking of Aida, one of the most familiar and traditional operas in the repertory. It opens with shots of the dead hero and heroine being fished out of the water. The set contains two enormous blue star-studded feet and a pair of mechanical cranes surrounding a pyramidal stairway. Perhaps not what you would expect of a story set in ancient Egypt. But director Graham Vick had numerous tricks up his sleeves which mostly work, at least from a technical perspective.

The story is a love triangle involving Amneris (Iano Tamar), Princess of Egypt, Radames, leader of the Egyptian army and her intended lover (Rubens Pelizzari), and Aida, the slave of Amneris (Tatiana Serjan), but really the daughter of Amonasro, the captured King of Ethiopia (Iain Patterson). This relationship becomes complicated when Radames falls in love with Aida, eventually sacrificing his status as Egypt’s ruler as well as his life when this affair is discovered by Amneris.

The iconic moment of Aida is the “Triumphal March” at the end of Act II and this is handled in an unconventional but clever way by director Vick. Not to spoil all of the surprises here, but there is an elephant, and huge cast on-stage. And, we find out the blue feet belong to a fragmented Statue of Liberty.

The production begins in the early dusk and becomes dark rather quickly with sunset. This works to the advantage of the stagecraft. While the setting of this opera in a watery environment might seem an unusual choice, the original Aida does take place along the banks of the Nile River, so this is not an insurmountable leap of faith. The coordination of singers’ entrances and exits as well as the choreography actually works quite well in the water. The costumes are a mixed bag of modern formal, casual garb, rain wear, and just plain strange, like the scantily clad men with black bags over their heads. However there is a panoply of striking colors that enhance the large choral and dance sequences.

Nicholas Sheffo
Fulvue Drive-in, July 2010

Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida is here from the C Major/Unitel Classica label and I liked the idea of doing it outside at night with its surreal set-up interesting contrasts of color. Graham Vick staged it, Paul Brown designed it and Carlo Rizzi conducted the music (with the Werner Symphony Orchestra) in what is a less traditional version than the Arte Blu-ray, yet it works and makes for a fully realized alternate version of a much-performed and highly known classic. The tale of the title character (Tatiana Serjan), an Ethiopian slave, marrying into the realm of the Egyptian Gods continues to be one of the most popular opera ever and it depth has allowed it to both endure and enjoy clever reinterpretations like this. Anyone familiar or unfamiliar with the work will be impressed by this version.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group