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Subject: Re: Tebaldi Aida under Karajan
From: "Max D. Winter" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Max D. Winter
Date:Sun, 25 Sep 2016 22:40:40 -0400

text/plain (77 lines)

Here's what I wrote about this recording, one of my favorites, on Opera-l back in 2011:

I bought the Decca/Karajan "Aida" on LP a long time ago and I didn't much
like it (I don't remember why, but I think Karajan's tempi and Tebaldi's
flatting had something to do with it).  It has been ages since I listened to it.

Well, I have been re-listening to this recording, on the remastered Decca
"Legendary Performances" CD version, in SUPERB sound, and I have been bowled
over by the beauty of this performance.  I love Karajan's tempi - slower in
places than one usually hears, certainly, but they have energy and real
sweep and grandeur.  And the orchestral playing is stunning.  "Aida" has some
of Verdi's most exquisite and imaginative orchestration, and Karajan's
attention to orchestral detail is revelatory.  The first time I heard
"Celeste Aida," sung superbly by Bergonzi, I found myself entranced, not by
Bergonzi's singing, but with hearing details in the orchestra I had never
noticed before.  Then I re-listened and heard Bergonzi and the orchestra
together.  It was not a case of the orchestra being too prominent, but of a
great conductor bringing things out that usually pass unnoticed.  

And then there is the sheer beauty of the Vienna Philharmonic's playing
under Karajan.  Even in the big, fortissimo passages, the sound is beautiful
and perfectly balanced.  Listen, for example, to the big, off-the-beat
orchestral chords in the opening chorus of the Triumphal Scene: a huge and
imposing sound, but balanced and never brassy or blary, and never just
"loud."  One could go on and on with more examples, but suffice it to say
that I heard more going on, musically in "Aida" in this recording than I
have ever heard before - and I know this opera well!  When I compared this
recording to my other favorite, the Solti/Price/Vickers on RCA, the Rome
Opera Orchestra sounded rather coarse by comparison.

The singing is splendid, too, up and down the line, with two minor
exceptions: Tebaldi's top, which sometimes goes under pitch (I am surprised
that the pitch-compromised high A at the end of "O patria mia" passed muster
with the producer and conductor); and Cornell MacNeil's dramatically blank
Amonasro.  But on balance, both performances are satisfying, especially
Tebaldi's.  What gorgeous singing in the middle and upper-middle registers!!
 And the weight of her voice, a genuine spinto, is perfect for Aida. 
MacNeil doesn't sound like he knows what the words mean, but he produces
very impressive sounds, a real Verdi baritone.

Bergonzi is the impeccable Verdi stylist that he usually is, singing with a
sweetness of tone that makes Radames a very sympathetic character. 
Simionato is, IMO, the best Amneris on disc, every bit Barbieri's equal in
power and with a much more secure top; more plush in sound and more
characterful than Cossotto; and more authentically Italianate than Gorr. 
Arnold van Mill sings with rich tone as Ramfis, sounding a lot at times like
Nicola Zaccaria.  I'm not so sure about Corena's King; I keep hearing Don
Bartolo or the Sacristan!  

Most of all, what a difference it makes having (mostly) Italian singers
singing Italian!!  The text just jumps out at you. 

The recording balance on this recording has always been controversial.  The
standard line of opinion is that the voices are too recessed and not
prominent enough.  I don't know if it is just my ears or the remastering,
but I had no problem with the balance.  True, the voices are not as
in-your-lap as on EMI recordings of this vintage, but I could hear the
singers just fine.  Off-stage effects are perfectly judged, as usual with
Decca's Solfiensaal recordings.  

I am so glad to have made this recording's re-acquaintance.  It goes right
up there with the Solti as one of my two favorites of this opera.


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