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Verdi’s Aida / Levine, Domingo, Millo, Metropolitan Opera

Verdi’s Aida is a uniquely sung, passionately, often sensitively conducted and performed, faultlessly recorded reading of an old favourite that should please anyone looking for a well-arranged modern and grandeous modern performance. My enthusiasm grows further listening to Millo’s reading of the title role. She tells us that she has listened to most of the familiar interpreters from the distant and not so distant past and her study shows not in any derivative way but in an authentically spinto kind of singing that has been hard to discern in other recent works. The firm yet vibrant, dark-hued, voluptuous tone is leavened by an crystalline brightness at the top and an ability to float that is wholly natural, never contrived. Listen to “Pieta ti prenda” in the scene with Amneris or “Numi pieta” at its finale and you’ll hear how Millo is able to shade her timbre and her phrasing in a way that ideally accords with the music.

The clashing emotions of “Ritorna vincitor” are faithfully rendered, the reflective, doleful mood of “O patria mia” perfectly captured, with the final troublesome passage managed par excellence. Better still is the instinctively appropriate shading in “La, tra, foreste vergine” in the Act 3 duet with Radames and the composed singing of “O terra addio” in the finale (although she here fails one dolcissimo test). In these examples the voice is all of a piece and the legato seamless. All this confirms the excellent impression Mil lo made on me when the opera was broadcast from the Metropolitan, a performance that enchanted not a few seasoned enthusiasts. After hearing the whole rendition, I took down from the shelves some famous prima donne on disc: Millo was shown to be more youthful than Milanov on the Perlea/RCA (but it’s that great diva at her best that Millo most potently recalls), more vocally appealing than Tebaldi for Karajan (Decca), more consistent in her voice than Callas, more involved and as technically skilled than Price, fuller in tone than Caballe. I wouldn’t claim that in every respect Millo is superior to these formidable sopranos or to Giannini on the old HMV set now on Rodolphe/Harmonia Mundi and Pearl, simply that she is at least their peer on this evidence.

Millo is the most potent reason for buying this set, but she is well supported by Domingo, offering his fourth and, I would judge, best Radames to date. Try “Celeste Aida”, or better still, the start of the final scene, to learn how much more sublime the great tenor’s reading has become. In the latter passage, he sings in a mezza voce he has never attempted in the past; indeed, throughout, the approach is more thoughtful. In forte the voice may be very marginally more stretched than, say, in Muti’s 1974 set, still a very strong contender, but the difference is slight. When he is finally gone from the scene, we shall treasure his sterling performances, even if we shall still think in this instance that Pertile (Sabajno), Corelli and Vickers (Sol ti) are the ones with true Radames voices. By the way, at the end of his aria Levine and Domingo opt for the Toscanini solution—forte high B flat followed by a piano B flat an octave lower.

Much more in his element with Verdi than he is with Mozart or Wagner, James Levine conducts a performance that captures the cut and thrust of the public scenes in the first part of the opera and the private anxieties and confrontations of the second. Learning a great deal from Toscanini’s reading, he reveals details of orchestration often overlooked by other conductors though certainly not by Muti. His matching of tempos and general pacing (though some parts, the final scene, for instance, are on the slow side) seem to me well conceived and attentive to the histrionic needs of the well-tried piece. He is supported by the Met orchestra, once more in splendid form. The chorus is, for better and worse, not Italianate, that is to say it is more precise, less wobbly than the choruses on some other versions, but also wanting a shade in pungency.

I shall not be disposing of my Callas/Serafin set or my Caballe/Muti or the readings headed by Giannini (Sabajno) and Milanov (Perlea), all of which are well-played, treasurable experiences. But the new contender, which has many similarities with the grandly sung Solti (down to the feeling that one is sitting rather near the brass), deserves to be heard in their company, most of all for its very special Aida.

Verdi - Aida / Levine, Domingo, Millo, Metropolitan Opera

Verdi - Aida / Levine, Domingo, Millo, Metropolitan Opera Rating:
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Opera conducted by James Levine and featuring the Metropolitan Opera Ballet and Orchestra anc Chorus. Stars Dimitri Kavrakos, Dolora Zajick, Aprile Millo, Placido Domingo and Sherill Milnes.

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Verdi - Aida / Levine, Domingo, Millo, Metropolitan Opera 4.2 out of 5 based on 65 ratings. 0 user reviews
Opera and Vocal Verdi - Aida / Levine, Domingo, Millo, Metropolitan Opera Opera conducted by James Levine and featuring the Metropolitan Opera Ballet and Orchestra anc Chorus. Stars Dimitri Kavrakos, Dolora Zajick, Aprile Millo, Placido Domingo and Sherill Milnes. $29.98 http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/513owLTK7vL._SL160_.jpg
http://www.5starclassicalmusic.com/opera-and-vocal/verdi-aida-levine-metropolitan/

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

115 of 123 people found the following review helpful By Alejandra Vernon HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 2, 2003
Format: VHS Tape
This 1989 Metropolitan production conducted by James Levine is visually stunning with its massive sets by Gianni Quaranta, in a palette of cream, gold and brown.
Domingo's Rhadames is robust and masculine, and his performance is well acted and heartfelt, and Aprile Millo, beautiful in ebon makeup and with her marvelous profile, looks every inch the Ethiopian princess taken slave; her sound is rich, full of emotion, and with wonderful pianissimos. For me, her "O patria mia" is the highlight of this opera, and she shines in every scene she is in.
I have a special fondness for Act One, Scene two, the "Temple of Vulcan", with "Nume, custode e vindice" one of the loveliest of the opera's melodies. Here it gets a stately treatment, and though it does not come close to the musical power of the Domingo/Ghiaurov/Muti CD, it is still good listening. Act Two, Scene Two, the Victory March, has some well behaved horses, a simple but pleasant ballet choreographed by Rodney Griffin with attractive dancers, and the entrance of the great Sherrill Milnes. Though well past his prime vocally, he looks fabulous, and is believable as the conquered King Amonasro. The cast is rounded out by Dolora Zajick as Amneris, Dimitri Kavrakos as the Egyptian King, and Paata Burchuladze as Ramfis.
Though the stage direction is on occasion a little static, and the singing not always quite up to par, this is one of Verdi's grandest operas, and makes for very enjoyable viewing, and every minute spent with Aprile, is time well spent.
The subtitles are legible and helpful, and it comes with a small booklet with the synopsis in English and French; total running time is 158 minutes.
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77 of 82 people found the following review helpful By E. A. Lovitt HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on October 12, 2005
Format: DVD
Of all the 'Aida' productions I've witnessed, this version is my favorite. If you are searching for your first 'Aida' it should be this Metropolitan Opera production with its balance of great and good singers, and its grandiose Egyptian backdrops of sandstone, bronze, linen and gold. It has one of the better triumphal marches, too. No elephants (except for a few tusks), but scads of soldiers, dancers, Ethiopian prisoners, leopard skins, and gaily caparisoned horses.

Aprile Millo's Aida sings well, especially her celestial pianissimos, but she is a cold princess-slave. She seems to be perpetually annoyed--perhaps because Amneris got the best costumes---but her tomb scene with Placido Domingo is to die for. It is only when she has to crank up the volume that she sounds a bit pinched.

Dolora Zajick's Amneris is why you need to hear this production. She is a luscious, spoiled, intensely feminine, young Pharaoh's daughter. She is also a true Verdian mezzo with a voice as rich and seductive as her appearance. This is one of those 'Aidas' where the Pharaoh's daughter almost steals the show.

Paata Burchuladze sings a Slavic, wa-wa trombone of a Ramfis, lisping, loud, and satisfactorily menacing at the fore of his priestly chorus. I really enjoyed the stentorian booming of the priests, thundering away at the lower levels of 'Ritorna Vincitor,' demanding the deaths of the Ethiopian prisoners, and snarling out their 'tradditores' beneath Amneris's frenzied pleading in the judgement scene.

Placidio Domingo is a soldierly Radamès and his 'Celeste Aida' is sung with a silken vigor that doesn't require the interpolated, often-bleated high B flat at its climax.

Greek bass, Dimitri Kavrakos is a suitably dignified pharaoh with slightly less wa-wa than his priestly colleague, but with enough volume to be heard in the crowd scenes.

Sherrill Milnes is a ferocious, glowering Amonasro, although his baritone has definitely begun to show signs of dryness. His scene with Aida is dramatic rather than beautifully sung.

There is one fairly serious problem with this production--I've played it on two different machines, so it isn't my equipment: I can barely hear the male chorus at the beginning of the Temple of Vulcan scene. The priestess and the women's chorus come through fine, but no matter how much I crank the volume, the men's unaccompanied chorus is nothing but a distant muttering.

Even so, I think you'll love this 'Aida', right down to the last 'pace' of Amneris, quietly grieving above the tomb."}">Read more ›
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104 of 116 people found the following review helpful By N. Gallimore on February 25, 2001
Format: DVD
I have written a number of reviews for Amazon - as in line with Shirley Bassey and Scooby Doo - This as Good as it gets!!
I have seen a number of Aida's but would have sold my soul to have see this one live at the Met. However, I watched Dolora Zajick's Amneris at Covent Garden and she was as wonderful as her portryal here - at the House I shouted myself hoarse at her portrayal - mind you I did too when I watched this DVD.
Domingo is perfect as Radames and Aprile Millo has done nothing better. What an emotional scene it is when Amonasro (Sherrill Milnes) holds his chained hands up in in passion at the climax of Act II.
The sound and picture are perfect - the production is exemplary - this is the best Aida you are likely to see or hear. I emplore you to buy it. You really will not regret it.
As I said at the start - This is as Good as it Gets! Perfect in fact.
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful By K. Bouse on July 15, 2003
Format: DVD
"Aida" is a magnificent opera that requires complete suspension of belief to be truly enjoyed. That said, this 1989 production has all of the elements that historically make the Metropolitan Opera one of the world's best. The sets and costumes are opulent, the staging is impressive and the dancers and chorus are essential in bringing what is essentially a series of musical tableaux to life. And the singing is pure Met. The Met is all about "La Voce" and Domingo, Millo, and Zajick are all voice. Aprile Millo is incredibly believable as Aida, bringing firey passion, sublime musicality and vocal inspiration to this difficult spinto role. Dolora Zajick is a formidable Amneris, who uses her strong mezzo voice and musical sensitivity to bring the essence of Pharoah's impassioned daughter into the hearts of the audience. Placido Domingo is simply himself. He sings with articulation, power and intensity, and that's just fine. There are a few "oops" that keep this DVD from being perfect such as awkward angles, subtitles covering up a performer now and then, and the overall static nature of the production. But it is still wonderful viewing, and a wonderful artifact of the Levine era Met. Decades from now it will serve as a tangible reminder of some of the great voices of the late 20thC. This DVD is a treasure.
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