Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|Verdi - Aida / Dessi Armiliato Fiorillo Scandiuzzi Palatchi Pons Martinez Barcelona Opera|
Actors: Daniela Dessė, Fabio Armiliato, Roberto Scandiuzzi
Genres: Indie & Art House, Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts
A Beautiful Production of 'Aïda' from Barcelona
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 07/13/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It's been years since I've seen 'Aïda,' but my first production goes back over fifty years and I've seen it too many times to count. My first Aïda was Zinka Milanov; that tells you how long ago it was. And in the movie theater I fell in love with my first sight of Sophia Loren in the Italian filmed version made in the 1950s. She lip-synched to the singing of Renata Tebaldi. I came to this DVD not expecting a lot, but I was, frankly, overwhelmed. I suppose part of that is because it had been so long since I'd seen the opera; it IS one of the great dramas of the opera stage, and like 'Bohème' and 'Carmen' (the other two of the ABC triumvirate) it never fails to move an audience (and me).
I've always sniffed at opera-goers who tell about their opera-going experiences by talking about the scenery. C'mon, opera is about the music, right? Well, yes, right. But this production from Barcelona's Gran Teatre del Liceu, one of the world's great opera houses, is a spectacular one, and what's more, it's a revival of a mise-en-scène that goes back to 1945. Here's the story: For many years the head scenery designer of the Liceu was Joseph Mestres Cabanes, the last of the so-called 'Catalan school' of set design. What he and his predecessors had perfected was the art of painting scenes on paper, that's right PAPER, using incredible skill at trompe l'oeil and perspective to make the scenery look, from the auditorium, ultra-realistic. Mestres Cabanes went a step further--his richly detailed sets were painstakingly painted, yes, but they also included fantastic, even surrealistic details that repaid close attention by the audience, and his use of color was uniquely gorgeous. His 1945 production of 'Aïda,' his last for the house, was probably the pinnacle of his achievement (along with an almost equally spectacular 'Meistersinger' of the year before). The production played for a number of years, but the paper sets (which onstage were mounted on elaborate wooden frames) had long since been removed from their frames, folded, and put away. Miraculously, when the Liceu burnt to the ground in 1995, they survived. Set designer Jordi Castellis had the idea of repairing the wear-and-tear flaws in the 60 year old sets and remounting Mentres Cabanes's production. This was done in July 2003 to huge acclaim, and rightly so. The sets for the four acts, using as many as 120 different planes and layers of paper, are, in a word, astonishingly beautiful and effective. But, enough about scenery ... what about the musical and dramatic values here?
This is a conservative production in that there is none of that Eurotrash rewriting of the plot, the setting, the era, or the psychological gist of the piece. The Liceu orchestra and chorus are excellent; I particularly liked the rich voices of the Priests in their scenes. The ballet is expert, although I did wonder why the so-called 'Sacred Dance of the Priestesses' in Act I, Scene 2 was danced by male dancers, however effective it was. Ah, the singers. Verdi is hard to cast these days; we all long for the days of 'real' Verdi baritones, real spinto sopranos, real ringing-voiced tenors. The Liceu measures up pretty well in this regard. It had been years since I'd heard Juan Pons sing, but his trombone-voiced Amonasro is one of the best I've ever heard. Robert Scandiuzzi's Ramfis is a suitably sonorous black basso. The Priestess (my first, would you believe, was Lucine Amara when she was VERY young and long before she graduated to leading roles) is nicely done by Ana Nebot. Radamès is sung by a tenor only vaguely known to me, Fabio Armiliato, a fairly young man who is now singing in all the biggest houses. His tenor is just one notch below that of the best, but he manages it well, his acting is excellent and his appearance (he's tall and trim, and has devilish good looks) helps the effect. This is a video of a live performance and he, like many tenors, isn't at his peak for his big aria at the very beginning, 'Celeste Aïda,' but he warms up nicely and by the time of the Nile scene and the Dungeon scene the voice is ringing out heroically; he is also capable of nuanced soft singing. Daniela Dessì is a known quantity. She has been a leading Verdi soprano for years, and she shines here. Again, like Armiliato, she warms up after Act I and by Act II and beyond the singing is thrilling. Both the duet with Amonasro in the Nile scene and the aria and duet in Act IV are scrumptious, delicately shaded and featuring some pianissimi that gave me goose-bumps.
But the big surprise to me, since I'd never heard of her, is the Amneris of Elisabetta Fiorillo. Wow! In Act I there is evidence of a huge voice, but also some control problems. But by Act II and beyond she is simply magnificent. This is a dramatic voice with heft, flexibility, control. By Act IV she is simply stunning, and the audience certainly agrees with me on that. After her scena in Act IV, Scene 1, the audience went nuts.
In summary, then, this is the record of a wonderful performance enhanced by the restoration of 60-year-old sets that are themselves real works of art. This may not be Nilsson, Tebaldi, Price, Domingo, Bergonzi, whoever, but it is still thrilling theater.
There are subtitles in English, French, German and Catalan. There are an illustrated synopsis on DVD 1 (of 2) and a short documentary on Mestres Cabanes's sets and their restoration. There is no libretto, but the subtitles (in English, at least) are accurate and well-synchronized.
G. A. BRAVO-CASAS | New York, NY USA | 07/29/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Amazon.com already includes ten complete DVD versions of Aida. My favorite is the one from the Metropolitan Opera (New York) with Aprile Millo and Placido Domingo. This latest arrival comes from Barcelona (two discs; 186 minutes; recorded live in the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, 21-24 July, 2003). In addition to the many virtues found by the previous reviewer (J. Scott Morrison, July 13, 2004), I would summarize my overall impression as: this is a magnificent performance! It has been recorded with superb sound. The orchestra, the chorus, the rhythm adopted by the conductor and, particularly, the restored trompe-l'oeil sets from the Catalonian painter, Josep Mestres Cabanes, make you forgive and forget the limitations of this new version of Aida. In some of the scenes (particularly in the last two acts), you are able to achieve such a level of immersion in the work that you forget some of the limitations of the two principal singers (Daniela Dessi and Fabio Armilato). Elisabetta Fiorillo (Amneris) and Juan Pons (Amonasro) provide an intensity rarely seen. The DVD includes also a short documentary (10:26 minutes) about the Liceu of Barcelona (before and after its reconstruction following the fire of 1994) as well as on Josep Mestres Cabanes, the real idol of this production."
Daniela Dessi and 60 year-old restored sets make this Aida s
Toni Bernhard | Davis, CA United States | 10/14/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The first time I saw Aida, it was all spectacle. By the third viewing, it had become an intimate tale, so familiar to us all: a tragic love triangle (and an interracial one at that). On fourth viewing, I fell in love with all of it - the spectacle of court and war, the dances, Verdi's use of the orchestra, the heartbreakingly beautiful pieces he wrote for Aida, the stunning (as in, "it stuns me") ending. It amazes me how Verdi can move seamlessly from spectacle (e.g. the triumphal march) to the most intimate of songs ("Numi, pieta," "O patria mia"). And, uncharacteristically, Verdi gets downright sensuous in Act II, Scene 1 where Amneris is dressed and pampered by her ladies and her slaves. The final scene is nothing short of brilliant: Verdi ends this bigger-than-life opera not with the brass of the orchestra blasting away but with the most intimate of scenes, accompanied by strings alone. Yes, the lovers die, but it's Verdi's brilliant overlay of their death duet with Amneris' prayer for peace - she, who must live with what she's done - that has me crying every time.
There are a wealth of Aida DVD's to choose from. What sets this production apart is the staging. The Gran Teatre del Liceu of Barcelona used trompe-d'oeil sets that were painted on paper by Josep Mestres Cabanes for a production of Aida in 1945. When the opera closed, the paper sets were removed from their wooden frames and stored away. Almost 60 years later, set designer Jordi Castellis had them restored for this production. There are over 100 planes of paper and they are absolutely stunning - lush and colorful, rich in detail. This production is worth seeing just for the sets; it's like being at a Catalonian art exhibit.
The performances, however, are uneven and that's why four stars, not five. Daniela Dessi is a favorite soprano of mine. Even though she can be shrill in the upper register, I forgive this because she always moves me. She projects a fascinating combination of strength and vulnerability. She humanizes every role, making us feel as if the character is someone we might know and care about in real life. She gives a heartrending performance of "Numi, pieta." Her pianissimo is stunning.
Dessi's real life husband, Fabio Armiliato, doesn't excel as Radames although he improves in the later part of the opera. He tends to just blurt out his songs with little interpretation or nuance. He and Dessi do have great onstage chemistry though!
I was also disappointed in Elisabetta Fiorillo as Amneris although other reviewers here thought she was excellent. Her voice is indeed powerful, but she sings as if it's a solo performance. Even in the ensemble pieces, she continually faces the audience, raising her arms straight out to her sides, creating this massive rectangle with her robe. The effect is that she appears to be on the stage by herself instead of part of an ensemble. For me, it ruins the great Act IV, Scene 1 duet with Radames. (By contrast, Dolora Zajick in The Met production from 1989 not only sings Amneris powerfully and beautifully, but the intensity of her interactions in the scenes with Radames and Aida make my spine tingle.)
The DVD includes a documentary on Josep Mestres Cabanes' sets and how they were restored. I highly recommend this production."
Old-Fashioned Traditional "Aida"
Robert W. Upshaw | Albuquerque, NM USA | 11/09/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The production is beautiful and the musical performances are, for the most part, very good. The soprano is a bit relentless in her sadness (visually, body language, etc.) but she sings very well. Altogether I would say this is a good choice for anyone wanting a traditional approach to this essential opera.