Originally commissioned to celebrate the completion of the Suez Canal and the opening of Cairo’s new opera house, Verdi’s Egyptian epic Aida is here seen in a spectacular new staging in the Teatro Regio Torino by the Oscar-winning American film director William Friedkin, creator of such famous movies as The Exorcist and The French Connection. The cast featuring the American soprano Kristin Lewis, who exhibits “a remarkable voice, which she uses with powerful dramatic instinct” (La Stampa), and the Georgian mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili, whose Amneris “dominates the stage with her dark, rounded, irresistible voice and extraordinary stage presence” (La Gazzetta Musicale) is first-rate. All were united in praise of Noseda: “he controls everything - orchestra, singers, chorus, dancers, acrobats – with an all-encompassing overview” (La Stampa); “he knows exactly when it’s time to linger over a timbre, a colour, an expressive chord” (Corriere della Sera).
One of the most acclaimed musicians of his era, Toscanini was a conductor of the "old school" - aristocratic, perfectionistic and something of an autocrat on the podium. After a brief flurry of interest in Fascism in the 1910s, he rapidly became disillusioned with the movement and indeed became a personal rival of Mussolini, repeatedly antagonising him through acts of artistic defiance such as refusals to open concerts with the Fascist anthem Giovinezza.
Eventually he fled Italy for the United States, becoming the first conductor of the newly-formed NBC Symphony Orchestra, with whom he pioneered radio broadcasts and recordings that made him a household name in America until his retirement at the age of 87. He gave the premiere performances of several major works, including Barber's Adagio for Strings and the American premiere of Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony.
This 2006 production from the Zurich Opera is a traditional one by Nicolas Joël in veteran Ezio Frigerio's wonderfully evocative, highly coloured sets. Then Adám Fischer in the pit leads a remarkably strong yet subtle account of the score, which – when played and sung like this – is once more revealed as one of Verdi's greatest masterpieces. Four of the principals easily surpass their DVD rivals. Stemme offers a deeply considered, expressive and superbly sung Aida, one for whom the work's vocal perils do not seem to exist. Add to that acting that goes to the heart of the matter, and one is left breathless in admiration after so many sopranos not truly fitted to the part. Licitra has done nothing better than his Radames here. At last fulfilling his potential, he sings the role with an open-hearted sincerity and a heroic voice up to the part's exigent demands.