Antonio Pappano Conducts Verdi’s Aida

The Orchestra e coro dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, conducted by Sir Antonio Pappano.

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Verdi
LABELS: Warner Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Verdi
WORKS: Aida
PERFORMER: Anja Harteros, Jonas Kaufmann, Erwin Schrott, Ekaterina Semenchuk, Ludovic Tézier; Orchestra e coro dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia/Sir Antonio Pappano
CATALOGUE NO: 2564610663

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Verdi’s major operas turn up less frequently in the recording studio than they once did. While there’s already a wealth of fine sets of Aida in the back catalogue, a high-quality new version is warmly welcome and this release has certainly been well worth the wait. With Verdi stylist Sir Antonio Pappano in charge, you can take it for granted that musical standards are impressive, but it is equally successful as a dramatic interpretation.

Aida is often labelled a grand opera, but in fact it is a good deal more than that. In a personal note that explores the complexity of the piece from a sonic as well as a musical perspective, Pappano comments that rather than creating either a grand opera or something essentially intimate, ‘Verdi’s genius was to intertwine in the cleverest dramaturgical structure the two elements, public and private, in an astonishingly cohesive whole’.

The multiple perspectives required in terms of onstage and offstage effects are vividly captured in a recording whose depth and range are extraordinary and which creates, again in Pappano’s words, ‘an imaginary production built with the forces and space that you have at your disposal’.

The cast is surely impossible to beat today. Anja Harteros can boast both the high-octane tone and the necessary level of dramatic expression to make Aida credibly three-dimensional, and she can also float her soft high notes expertly. The performance’s intimate moments, incidentally – including the crucial final scene – have your ears reaching out to catch the minutest sounds.

Ekaterina Semenchuk’s Amneris possesses regal grandeur, but she, too, is concerned with Verdi’s markings, making many subtle observations pertinent to the character’s inner emotional world.

Jonas Kaufmann fulfils all requirements of the challenging tenor role of Radamès, offering scrupulous diction, distinguished musicianship and a huge variety of tone. In his hands ‘Celeste Aida’ registers as a magnificent soliloquy, and unusually he closes it with the immaculately soft finish Verdi asks for, but which few tenors can actually deliver.

Ludovic Tézier’s Amonasro, meanwhile, is vocally firm and decisive, providing a consistent politically determined quality; he and Harteros generate considerable tension in the crucial scene on the banks of the River Nile where the fates of the four central characters are altered forever.

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In secondary roles, both Erwin Schrott’s Ramfis and Marco Spotti’s King are vocal towers of strength, while the Roman chorus and orchestra excel themselves, revelling in the rich colours and subtle atmospheres conjured up in the marvellous score. George Hall