Giuseppe Verdi Arena di Verona 9 Agosto 1966
Aida Leyla Gencer
Radames Carlo Bergonzi
Amneris Fiorenza Cossotto
Ramfis Bonaldo Giaiotti
Amonasro Anselmo Colzani
II Re Franco Pugliese
Un messaggero Ottorino Begali
Una sacerdodessa Adalina Grigolato
Orchestra e Coro dell' Arena di Verona
Dirige Franco Capuana
Maestro del Coro Giulio Bertola
Regla Herbert Graf
Corpo di Ballo del Teatro Kirov di Leningrado
The tradition of presenting operas in the Arena of Verona was inaugurated by Aida when it was performed there in 1913. The wide-open spaces of this opera-the blue skies and fragrant forests of Ethiopia, the starry nights on the Nile-and its picture of Egypt's ancient civilisation found their ideal setting in the grandeur of this centuries-old Roman amphitheatre and in the open air of Verona's summer nights.
The Aida on this videotape was part of a heroic epoch at the Arena, when great Verdian singers were members of a homogeneous opera company and they had heroic stature, had the greatness of romantic myth. Some say that when opera is taken out of the theatre and performed in the open, it loses resonance, loses its nature. But on the contrary, with singers of such greatness as these, opera in the Arena acquires the sacral nature of Greek tragedy. The performance on this videotape was televised in black and white with the technical means of thirty years ago. It lacks the lighting, the brilliant colors, the flexible movement from panoramas to close-ups which today's telecamera can provide Yet it is a precious document, for it gives us the spacious Arena, here dominated by the stage sel of designer Pino Casarini and the conducting of Franco Capuana. We may smile at certain scenic features that are now old-fashioned, like the costumes, or the warrior's appearance of the hero. Radames. Nonetheless, in this videotape the camera truly transmits the scenic presence of these singers and the intensity of their acting.
Leyla Gencer is Aida, the princess of Ethiopia (in fact, Turkey) who has been enslaved, and it is our great good fortune that this video has preserved at least a trace of the interpretation this artist gave to one of her greatest roles. She both sings and acts with greal intensity. She is completely immersed in her role, from the moment when she first appears, above, and then descends a long slope with proud, majestic steps. A sense of Aida's tragic fate is conveyed to us at once by the expression in her eyes.
Gencer's Aida is a product of the coaching of her teacher, Gianina Arangi Lombardi. Her Aida has an exotic instinctiveness that she modulates with Oriental delicacy. Her voluptuous, golden voice has perfect lyric and dramatic balance. It conveys the tragic sadness of the heroine and her story, and at the same time the vivid state of mind, the vibrant sensitivity of a character continually changing.
Gencer has clear, precise phrasing that sculpts each scenic Verdian word. She also has ;i rhetoric of gestures for the great moments (the dramatic duet with Amneris, or the pageant of the triumph, when with a grand, intense gesture she becomes the heroine defending her people, "M;i tu, o Re.."). And she knows, too, how to soften her tone in phrasing that is lyrical and full of truth. This opera displays a change in Verdi's style, towards a more introspective sensibility, an attraction to decadence, and a liberty-style ornateness. In her voice Gencer conveys intimacy by the most sensitive use of color, of nuance, of unearthly melody that holds the listener in suspense on a delicate thread of emotion from which he cannot return.
Gencer1 s singing in Act Two, on the Nile, is a masterpiece, with its melting intimacy, the exotic, nostalgic flavour of her great aria, and the exquisitely soft, drawn-out high C of the "Cieli azzuri"--a passage that enchanted De Sabata when he first heard Gencer sing it. And right afterwards, she electrifies us with her psychological variety: in the duet with her father, then the tenderness of her singing amid her tears, and finally the rush of song, the irresistible demands, in her duet with Radames.
The final scene in the tomb is extraordinary, and typical of Gencer: a lyrical, amorous, winning flow of song colours the sad words, and the cantabile ("Vedi, di morte l'angelo") becomes a flight of exaltation, conveying the Oriental feeling that death is gentle, sweet, and an end to all troubles.
Carlo Bergonzi is Radames, and is already Verdian in the sincerity and richness of his voice, whose warmth expresses the province of Emilia from which he comes. He conveys his interpretation of the role, conveys the psychology and the ideals of Radames, through his voice. The easy, burnished timbre of his high notes and the mellow softness of his voice make the dream expressed in his opening aria ("Se quel guerrier, io fossi") seem plausible. And his careful, supple phrasing, the words fully enunciated and well shaped, give exemplary clarity and rotundity to his singing.
Bergonzi doesn't like taking risks, and yet the amorous power of his first words to Aida ("Pur ti riveggo, mia dolce Aida"), his vehemence in the duet that follows, and the absolute desolation in his voice when he sings "Io sono disonorato!" are all superb. The dark, tragic determination of "Sacerdote, io resto a te" is dazzling.
The lyrical flow of song in the final scene, and his capacity to soften his voice as the soprano softens, create a harmony between the two that is simply enchanting. Amneris has the great, Arena-filling voice of Fiorenza Cosssotto. The colour, power, voluptuousness and pathos of Cossotto's voice are unmistakable. On stage she displays the arrogance, the superiority to which Amneris has every right, as a Pharoahs daughter triumphant in her beauty, power, and love.
Cossotto's sumptuous voice, luxuriant in its harmonics, has seductive power: it is scalding in her insinuating question to Radames ("Ne un altro sogno mai..."); it makes her longing for love ("Vieni, amor mio, m'inebria") vibrate with burnished, golden sensuality amid the harp-playing and the singing of her handmaids. But Verdi turns the winner into the loser, in this drama of two women. When Amneris' jealous suspicions first arise, Cossotto is still the sovereign sure she will triumph, the woman who entraps her friend and slave Aida in treacherous coils and, competing with Gencer, displays a capacity for exciting dramatic outbursts. But then comes Amneris' time of travail, in her dramatic aria downstage during the trial of Radames as a traitor. Now Cossotto's great power to project pathos comes into play: the concrete clarity of every word, every note, every feeling and the vast noble resonance of her voice unify her conflicting dramatic changes of character, from outbursts of anger to furious rebellion to the nobility of wounded love.
Her invocation to the priests (" Sacerdoti, compiste un delitto...") resounds with bitterness but also with the harmony and amplitude of a cosmic "cavata." And at the end, solitude: Amneris, cut off from love, immerses herself in the ritual pain of supplication, above the lovers' tomb, and the dark weight of those grave notes, of that peace, make her like an angel of death.
Anselmo Colzani, the Amonasro, has a sure, Verdian touch. He presents the King of the Ethiopians with an extraordinary awareness of his character: a king fierce in his love of his country, so fiercely patriotic that he will lie, spy, and ride roughshod over his daughter's feelings. Yet Colzani has a classic Verdian sense of restraint: he knows how to moderate contrasts. And so he shapes his speech, with a clear, biting pronunciation of each emotive word; in the expression of his feelings in the duet he is scalding; yet he knows how to be emphatic without falling into excess.
Bonaldo Giaiotti, as Ramfis the priest, has a sumptuous voice which he uses with calm and gentleness. His characterisation has the solemnity of history in the recitatives, the authority of religion in the arc of noble song with which he sustains the melody ("Nume, custode e vince..."), and the gravity of an atavistic justice.
Franco Pugliese has the noble cadence of one of those kings in Egyptian bas-reliefs. The conductor, Franco Capuana, sustains the flow of Verdi's score with a sure hand, sensitive to its rhythmic surges of ecstatic lyricism. He has an ear attuned to the greater extension of sonorities in the spaciousness of the Arena. And he is always vigilant and attentive to the poetic intensity of his singers.