double play

Verdi: Aida Soloists, Choruses, National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland / Rico Saccani (Naxos 8.660033-4; two CDs); 'A super-bargain, it's true, but a false economy, also. It's the kind of performance you might be pleased to hear on a wet evening in... I'd better not say where' 'A lot depends on what you're looking for... If you go to Aida to be stirred, then there's really only one question: did the earth move for you? For me, the answer is no'

Ten choruses are listed: the Irish Army No 1 Band, and the rest. The budget's through the roof before you can say "triumphal". Aida does not come cheap. Except - in this case - for the purchaser. Naxos are masters of the super-bargain market, no doubt about that. And cut-price need not mean cut corners - though I still think it a mistake to offer the Italian libretto only, particularly as these prices are most likely to attract first-time buyers. Still, Naxos would doubtless argue that the money is better spent in pursuit of musical excellence.

So where stands this Aida in those terms? Well, you can't win them all. I was anxious to hear Maria Dragoni - winner of the 1983 Maria Callas Competition and, subsequently, the favour of Riccardo Muti - but I wonder if I've already missed the best of her. The wear and tear is self-evident: the top is troubled, insecure, the overall colour and quality of the voice uneven. There's an audible break now into her much-vaunted chest register. She's plainly a feeling singer (all or nothing), but one inclined to snatch recklessly at the emotional hot-spots; and an Aida whose big phrases, whose quiet, beseeching pianissimi never quite come off is not an Aida to live with.

Her Radames, the Icelandic tenor Kristjan Johannsson, might have been custom-built for the Verona arena (ie loud). Not a single grateful or affecting or vulnerable phrase, no finesse, no mezza voce. A hefty high B at the close of "Celeste Aida" (is it my imagination, or does he make a last-ditch attempt at the notorious diminuendo?) sums him up. Barbara Dever's Amneris packs plenty of voice, albeit of one colour (nobody messes with this princess), and I suspect that Mark Rucker (Amonasro) is a lot younger than he sounds.

Beyond the obvious deficiencies in vocal or Verdian style, a little excitement can go a long way. Yet this Aida is so un-exciting. The conductor, Rico Saccani, pulls most of his punches, the tension comes and goes (hit the start button anywhere in Solti's RCA / Decca recording with Price and Vickers and you'll hear what I mean). And is it me, or do the brass get a hopelessly raw deal throughout? Why, even the Irish Army trumpeters sound jaded when their big moment comes. Likewise the Egyptian populace.

To say that the choral singing is provincial is to give only some indication of just how flat and un-Italianate it is. Whatever happened to the atmosphere, the theatre of the score? Aida is a gift for the imaginative recording engineer, but no attempt has been made here, for instance, to realise Verdi's magical use of perspective: the chants of priests and priestesses wafting over still waters from the temple of Isis, the judgement of Radames echoing from the subterranean court of justice.

Disappointing, then: a super-bargain, it's true, but a false economy, also. It's the kind of performance you might be pleased to hear on a wet evening in... I'd better not say where.

A lot depends on what you're looking for. If you go to Aida to sample voices, then there's plenty to talk about. On many levels Dragoni is an imposing heroine, vocally strong with a musical approach to phrasing and expressive inflection. Some of her colours and turns of phrase recall Callas, and she can rise securely to a high C in her anguished Act 3 solo while still honouring Verdi's crucial marking dolce ("sweetly"). She's matched by a robust and often characterful Amneris, and an authoritative Radames.

But if you go to Aida to be stirred, then there's really only one question: did the earth move for you? For me, the answer is no. Take that Act 3 solo, a classic love-versus-duty scene: there may be touches of Callas here and there, but none of her elemental pathos. It's all oddly uninvolving. As for the tomb scene - I can imagine approving applause, but not a moist eye in the house. The orchestral playing under Saccani is all of a piece: a good, if not dramatically compelling pace, and expression that often simmers but never boils. But at least they manage that much; the choral singing (10 choirs are listed) is lustreless at best - the Italian barely recognisable as such in places - and there's a disastrous drop in pitch in Act 4.

The 1955 Callas version is mono, and on three full-price discs (shame!), but if you're looking for a singable replayable Aida, with a splendid set of soloists and conducting that radiates insight and passion, it's worth the extra outlay.

Arts and Entertainment
Just folk: The Unthanks

music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne with his Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rowan Atkinson is bringing out Mr Bean for Comic Relief

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea