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
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
The American stand-up Tig Notaro, who performed topless this week

Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars

Arts and Entertainment

TVNetflix gets cryptic

Arts and Entertainment
Claudia Winkleman is having another week off Strictly to care for her daughter
TV
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Children in Need is the BBC's UK charity. Since 1980 it has raised over £600 million to change the lives of disabled children and young people in the UK

TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his winning novel

Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination

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.

    In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

    Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

    Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
    The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

    The young are the new poor

    Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
    Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

    Greens on the march

    ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

    Through the stories of his accusers
    Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

    The Meaning of Mongol

    Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible