Tuesday, October 08, 2013

One Verdi Opera a Day: AIDA

 Aida  Antonio Ghislanzoni  Auguste Mariette, Bey  Cairo  1873

Leontyne Price, Rita Gorr, Carlo Bergonzi, Mario Sereni, Cesare Siepi. Georg Solti conducts. Metropolitan Opera broadcast, December 7, 1963

One British critic wrote, "Aida brings out the epicurean." Spare me. Here's a four act opera set in the Egypt of the Pharaohs. Dark body paint, walk-like-an-Egyptian,  all singing away in Italian. Are you dying
laughing? No one ever was. Aida has not one spare note of music.
Aida was my first. Do you remember yours. It wasn't the initial "sigh of the violins" that got me, but the low strings introducing the second theme in the prelude.


Aida introduced me to great voices and to drama. With no sense of the plot and no Italian , anyone can feel something else is about to happen. Something dangerous. There's a lot of  urgency of this music. Even at its most seductive and romantic, there is always the sense that something is about to happen

Verdi gives us splendor unparalleled in opera, and a sad, gorgeous death scene, all in the same score.

and there's no topping Verdi's triumphal scene. The composer doesn't give even try. Verdi gives us a finale of deep quiet and beauty:

I remember in particular  two productions of Aida. One in 1980. The Opera Company of Boston. Sarah Caldwell staged and conducted the work for Shirley Verrett. Verrett was going through her "I'm a soprano" phase, with hits and misses. Her Aida was a hit. At least as I heard it. She was regal, she was tragic and her
voice soared to touch heaven. James McCracken was Radames, a big burly man with a weird , opaque sounding voice. But power he had and beauty, too. Elizabeth Connell, Amneris and David Arnold, Amonasro. Ramfis was Ferruccio Furlanetto in his American debut. Sarah got lost in the prelude during the first performance. It was one of those start again moments only she was damned if she was going to start over. The assistant conductor was standing in front of me hissing "Jesus!" "shit!" and worse. Sarah was nonplussed.

Leontyne Price made her farewell to opera as Aida, a part she owned. It was January 5, 1985.McCracken was Radames. Some of us wanted to go back and see him but he told us, "Hell,  they'll barely let ME backstage." Miss Price's farewell was an electrical event. The lady had been dealing with a hoarse and froggy lower register for a few seasons. but on this night, all was well. Her voice was filled with splendor and light and passion and she was Leontyne Price and I was there, in standing room:

Aida, the opera of humanity. Viva Verdi!

No comments: