LABELS: Warner/NVC Arts
ALBUM TITLE: Verdi
PERFORMER: Margaret Price, Luciano Pavarotti; San Francisco Opera Chorus & Orchestra/ Garcia Navarro;dir. SamWanamaker (San Francisco, 1981)
CATALOGUE NO: 3984-22366-2
If you like your Aida with all the traditional trimmings then this is the production for you. Pyramids to the left and right, sphinxes, a forest of lotus-capped columns, ostrich feather fans and jewelled collars, enough hats and headdresses to keep a tomb robber in unlawful employment for life. And if Sam Wanamaker’s 1981 production for San Francisco Opera is more Memphis by the Mississippi than Memphis, Egypt, the audience members have the time of their lives applauding sets and singers.
With a ballet for robotic slaves for Radames’s Triumph and Amneris’s attendants grooming a saluki dog while their mistress spars with Aida over Radames, old-fashioned acting takes second place to sets, props and costumes. Just as well, perhaps, since none of the principals, with the exception of Simon Estes as Amonasro – surely the dullest bass role in all Verdi – and Kurt Rydl as a particularly vicious High Priest, are natural thespians. Film director Brian Large does his best to avoid close-ups, but you can’t play the whole of Aida in wide-shot.
Garcia Navarro in the pit gives a four-square account of this well-trodden score. And back in 1981 Pavarotti was in fine voice, a properly heroic Radames. Margaret Price, too, floats some melting pianissimos out over the pit. Her ‘O patria mia’ is lovely and the great Act I duet with Stefania Toczyska’s Amneris is high-voltage stuff- singing that has you gripping the arms of your seat. And that’s just at home in the front room. Christopher Cook