Giuseppe Verdi was to opera in the Italian tradition what Beethoven was to the symphony. He took the form to new heights of drama and musical expression. Partisans see him as at least the equal of Wagner, even though his style and musical persona were of an entirely different cast. In the end, both Verdi's popular vein—as heard in the operas Rigoletto, Il trovatore, and La traviata—and his deeper side—found in Aida, Otello, and Falstaff—demonstrate his mastery and far-reaching development of Italian opera.

Today's OTF post is my contribution on the forum to Verdi's 200th birthday, and I think you will like what I have queued up for you (I hope...)

Verdi composed his first opera (Oberto) in 1839 and from then on strung together great works achieving critical and popular success: Nabucco (1842), Rigoletto (1851), Il trovatore (1853), and the list goes on and on. Probably one of Opera’s most celebrated spectacles of excesses, Aida was a commission by the ruler (Khedive) of Egypt for the great opera house he’d inaugurated in Cairo in 1869. Versi’s Rigoletto was the first production put up at the opera house, and so Verdi was approached to create the spectacular stage work.

A libretto was prepared by Antonio Ghislanzoni based on a French synopsis by Camille du Locle. Verdi worked very closely with Ghislanzoni on the form and the exact text of the libretto, and at all times urged that conventional forms be abandoned if they did not serve any dramatic purpose.

The premiere in Cairo was delayed from January until December 1871 because the set designs and costumes were trapped in Paris during the Franco-Prussian War. The opera was an immediate success - with its famous arias and ensembles, and its spectacular festive scene from the second Act, Aida has become one of the most popular operas ever written.

The score to Aida is the culmination of Verdi's ideal to let the music advance the plot. The Triumphal March and ballet from Act Two are not just display pieces, but an integral part of the celebrations of a victorious army. Except for this scene, Aida is really a very intimate opera with most scenes requiring only a couple of characters; in fact, a great deal of the choral singing comes from off-stage.

The role of Aida is one of the most gratifying found in any of the Verdi operas. With two important arias plus duets with each of the major characters, the soprano is given the opportunity to display all aspects of her talents. The jealous Amneris is the character who brings various dramatic elements together, and her duet with Radames is one of the great confrontation scenes in opera.

After Aida, Verdi gave up opera, at least for a time. His String Quartet (1873) and Requiem (1874) showed his creative juices were still very much alive. Critical opinion has it that his last three operas – which include Otello (1886) and Falstaff (1893) - are his finest, that the elderly composer became bolder and more imaginative in his later years.

The Performance

In this 1952 vintage recording, the three principals were widely regarded in the world of Italian opera as the leading exponents of their roles and it seems extremely likely that they never sang these parts, or any other, together on stage. According to a 1967 review on Gramophone (pre-dating the digitally restored version I uploaded) “It is well worth putting up with 'old' sound-patterns if, through them, there reaches us the art of a Melba or a Caruso […] (Renata Tebaldi) is magnificent in the "Ah tu dei vivere" reproach to Radamès and her denunciation of the Priests. Renata Tebaldi too was at her peak and her singing in Act 3 especially is worth having — strong enunciation, dramatic vehemence, fine phrasing. "O patra mia" is not sung like this very often in any decade and the two great duets which succeed it show Tebaldi as the artist as well as the pace maker."

Alberto Erede, an “old school” Italian opera conductor, gets the most of the Santa Cecilia Academy orchestra – the majestic spectacle that is the festival of Act II is nothing short of breathtaking, and makes us forget this is all MONO.

Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Aida (1871)
Opera in four acts, Italian libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni,


Cast:
Aida, Renata Tebaldi
Amneris, Ebe Stignani
Radames, Mario del Monaco
Amonasro, Aldo Protti
Ramfis, Dario Caselli
Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia Orchestra and Chorus
Alberto Erede, conducting
Studio Recording: 1952

Synpopsis: http://www.musicwithease.com/verdi-aida-synopsis.html
Libretto: http://opera.stanford.edu/Verdi/Aida/libretto_ie.html
Performance link (Internet Archive): https://archive.org/details/06AidaAct3.OnTheBanksOfThe

August 16 2013, "I Think You Will Love This Music Too" will feature more music inspired by Africa in a new podcast "The Dark Continent" at its Pod-O-Matic Channel . Read more August 2nd on the ITYWLTMT Blogspot blog.