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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

CD Review: Aida in the Temple of Doom

This 1983 Aida is made with the usual cast of Deutsche Grammophon suspects. Once again, Claudio Abbado leads the proceedings. He conducts another fine performance, watching his dynamic markings and occasionally outwitting the recording engineer to produce grand musical theater.

Despite the photo of Katia Ricciarelli that appeared on the front cover of the original LP and CD box sets, it is Domingo who is the star of this show. Here, (in the second of three studio recordings he made as Radames) he sounds positively restrained--especially when compared to Corelli or del Monaco. And that's a good thing. Sensitive and thoughtful in the opera's opening act, he opens up the pipes later on to let floods of passion come roaring forth. In the studio, he sings with a level of care that doesn't always come across in the opera house.

Katia Ricciarelli's portrayal of the title role veers from mild to wild at the start of "Ritorna, vincitor." This is a fine, well-sung dramatic performance that ranges between extreme self-loathing and the pathos necessary for a truly sympathetic Aida. Oddly, Ricciarelli seems to achieve this latter quality through shorter phrases, not the traditional legato lines that one often hears in the opera house. She is, like many of her fellow Ethiopian slave-girls, best heard on record.

As Amneris, Elena Obraztsova remains a controversial choice. The Russian mezzo made a lot of DG recordings in the '80s and they all feature that bludgeoning, thrusting voice, an impressive instrument that could punch its way over the orchestra. Here, one wonders if she is about to punch out that two-timing Radames. Lucia Valentini-Terrani is perfectly cast here as the singing priestess in the temple of Fthà. She's the best female performance on this record.

This entire performance sounds like it is being played in the same echoing acoustic that is usually reserved for the Temple scene in Act I. The effect is claustrophobic, with solo violins, harps and even choristers echoing forth into the pyramidal void. This is an approach to recording Aida that was done first (and better) by John Culshaw on the first Karajan recording in 1959. But at least Culshaw knew the art of self-retraint. Dynamic ranges are extreme on this recording--the pianissimi are nearly inaudible and the big moments are right in your face--or eardrums--especially that final "Immenso Fthà!"

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