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Friday, January 22, 2010

DVD Review: 'Tis Sweet to be Remembered

The Met's classic Aida on DVD.
by Paul Pelkonen.

Everybody on stage: Act II of Aida at the Met.
Ten years ago, this Deutsche Grammophon release was one of the first operas released on DVD by the Yellow Label. It remains a stone classic, a performance that has lost none of its power to impress the viewer and the listener. And it's as good an interpretation of live performance to digital medium as you'll find. It was filmed at the Met in 1990, when Placído Domingo was at the peak of his powers, and there were no titles on the backs of the seats.

This production, is a tradtional Aida with everything except the elephants. The Triumphal Scene boasts over 200 people onstage, realistic looking temples and pyramids, and the Met ballet corps in white dresses and Cleopatra wigs. One prop, the statue of the god Ftha, is so big that you only get to see its ankles! Equally impressive are the small details and visual grace notes (a crumbling statue, wall paintings in the palace) that come to light on DVD, details that are only visible from the very best seats in the house.

Aprile Millo's career at the Metropolitan Opera was not without its share of controversy. (After all, she is the only singer besides Ezio Pinza to have a piece of the building named after her--the famed "Millo Pole.") This performance finds Millo in excellent form, floating out the big climaxes in "Ritorna vincitar!" and "O Patria Mia." She is well-matched with Dolora Zajick as an angry, shrewish Amneris who displays great emotional growth over the opera's four acts. Amneris is one of Zajick's signature roles, and this performance shows why.

Domingo is Radames, the Egyptian general caught in the middle. He starts strong in "Celeste Aida" and that golden voice gets better as the evening goes on. In the Tomb Scene, he blends carefully with Millo as the two singers use up all of their oxygen in the most beautiful way possible. As Amonasro, the great baritone Sherrill Milnes does not enter until Act II, but when he does the opera's energy level jumps. The third act is terrific Georgian bass Paata Burchuladze giving one of his finest recorded performances as the high priest, Ramfis. Twenty years on, this performance of Aida remains as compelling as it was in the theater.

I should know. I was there.

Watch Aprile Millo in a reel of highlights from Aida
Contact the author: E-mail Superconductor editor Paul Pelkonen.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.