Verdi: Aïda

LABELS: Bel Air Classiques
PERFORMER: Nina Stemme, Salvatore Licitra, Luciana d’Intino, Juan Pons, Matti Salminen, Günther Groissböck; Zurich Opera Orchestra/Adam Fisher; dir. Nicolas Joël (Zurich, 2006)
CATALOGUE NO: BAC 022 (NTSC system; dts 5.1; 16:9 picture format)
Most stagings of Aïda are the stuff of Egyptologists’ nightmares, but not Nicolas Joël’s production from Zurich Opera. He cleverly circumvents the traditional imagery by setting the action at roughly the time of composition (1870-1), in the (loosely applied) context of the scramble for Africa. As usual with operatic updatings, it’s best


not to scrutinize the historical detail too closely, but we see post-Ottoman Egypt coming under French and British colonial influence. The Triumphal scene features a crowd waving Union Jacks and Tricolours. Ezio Frigerio’s set is made up of ornate glasshouses and there’s the suggestion of lush vegetation – so we must be on the banks of the Nile. The exoticism of Aïda is preserved, yet the characters (costumed by Franca Squarciapino) are brought closer to ‘home’.

It helps that Zurich’s excellent cast play their roles with such dramatic and musical conviction, a rare combination in Aïda. Making her debut in the title role, Nina Stemme shows that she can be no less at home in the Italianate idiom as in Strauss and Wagner, and she gives a beautiful and touching performance. Salvatore Licitra is an unusually musical Radames, who sings with good taste. Luciana D’Intino is a magnificent Amneris, and Juan Pons is a dramatically effective Amonasro. Given the lack of big Verdian voices these days, it’s a musically staggering performance. Some of the split-screen effects are fussy,


but the filming is effective.