Adina Aaron (Aida); Scott Piper (Radames); Kate Aldrich (Amneris); Paolo Pecchioli (Il Re); Enrico Giuseppe Iori (Ramfis); Giuseppe Garra (Amonasro); Chorus and Orchestra of the Arturo Toscanini Foundation/Massimiliano Stefanelli, cond.
TDK DVD VIDEO DVUS-AIDDBM TT: 142 min. + 46 min. features

Maria Chiara (Aida); Kristján Johannsson (Radames); Dolora Zajick (Amneris); Carlo Striuli (Il Re); Juan Pons (Amonasro); Nicola Ghiuselev (Ramfis); Ballet, Chorus and Orchestra of the Verona Arena/Nello Santi, cond.

A VERDI GALA Excerpts from Un ballo in maschera, Don Carlos, Rigoletto, La traviata and Falstaff
Andrea Rost, soprano; Alan Titus, baritone; Ramón Vargas, tenor; Prague Radio Choir/Berlin Philharmonic Orch/Claudio Abbado, cond.
EUROARTS DVD VIDEO 2050858 TT: 94 min.

There are about a dozen DVD videos of Aida, but this new version recorded at the Teatro Giuseppe Verdi, Busseto, January 27, 2001, easily is among the finest to be had. The occasion marked the centenary of Verdi's death in his home town where he was born October 10, 1813. Every year the town gives concerts and performances in his memory, and for the centenary they planned something very special. Franco Zeffirelli was very involved in all aspects of the scaled-down production (as was retired tenor Carlo Bergonzi), and a world-wide search produced hundreds of young singers auditioning for the performance. Teatro Verdi is a very small theater (seating capacity about 350), but it steeped in tradition - Toscanini often conducted there. Zeffirelli worked wonders in designing magnificent, appropriate sets, and Anna Anni's costumes are perfect—Aida looks like a slave, which doesn't happen often. Luc Buoy's choreography is ideal for a small stage, and we are spared the sight of endless marching soldiers and animals. The intimate aspects of Verdi's score are beautifully conveyed, and the cast is terrific, good-looking and vocally strong. Adina Aaron is a name to watch. Her performance in the title role is stunning, rich in texture and totally at ease throughout. Scott Piper is a strong but human Radames, and he ends his first aria with a superb floated B-flat. Kate Aldrich is magnificent as Amneris—what a future she will have! The remainder of the cast is equally fine, both vocally and dramatically. This is one of the best Aidas I've ever seen. Included is a fascinating documentary featuring Ziffirelli in conversation with the cast. Audio and camera quality are superb. I wonder why producers waited 6 years to release this?

With the Verona production we are back into big-scale Aidas. Visually it is intriguing with sets by Rinaldo Olivieri after Ettore Fagiuoli's design for the 1913 Verona premiere, directed by Gianfranco De Bosio who seems to have difficulty deciding what to do with singers on that vast outdoor stage. This performance was recorded at the Arena di Verona in August 1992, directed for TV and video b Gianni Casalino. Soprano Maria Chiara is a beautiful woman but not an ideal Aida, although she recorded the role with Pavarotti and La Scala forces for Decca in 1986. Kristján Johannsson is a loud, blustery Radames, Dolora Zajik a fine Amneris. Audio quality, in spite of the 5.l surround, is poor, particularly in sound of the orchestra. For a grand production of Aida, check out the James Levine 1988 Met production (see REVIEW).

A Verdi Gala is a concert recorded in Berlin's Philharmonie New Year's Eve 2000. Abbado specialized in this composer throughout his career, conducting Verdi operas in Milan, Vienna, Berliin and Salzburg. Here we have excerpts from Un ballo in maschera, Don Carlos, Rigoletto and La traviata, with most of the program devoted to more than 40 minutes of Falstaff. Singing is of an unusually high standard, and artists listed above are joined by mezzo-sopranos Larissa Diadkova and Stella Doufexis, tenors Enrico Facini and Anthony Mee, sopranos Elizabeth Futural and Carmela Remigo, baritone Lucio Gallo, and bass Anatoly Kocherga in ensemble numbers. Just to show it was New Year's Eve, Abbado ends the program with Johann Strauss's Quadrille on themes from Un ballo in maschera .Audio and video quality are both excellent; there are no special features.

R.E.B. (December 2006)