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Over the past two decades the number of studio recordings produced by the world’s biggest record labels of grand operas has dwindled. However a new studio recording of Verdi’s epic masterpiece Aida being produced by Warner Classics and featuring an all star cast proves that the tradition of recording large scale operatic works in the studio is still alive. What’s more, the new recording, due for release in October this year, will boast an authentically Italian provenance with conductor Sir Antonio Pappano at the helm.
Pappano, who since 2005 has been Music Director of the Orchestra and Chorus of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, featured on this new recording, is a seasoned hand with Verdi repertoire. This will be the conductor’s second studio recording of a Verdi opera, after his 2002 release of Il Trovatore. His Warner Classics catalogue also contains an award-winning Santa Cecilia version of Verdi’s monumental Requiem. Pappano has assembled an extraordinary cast of similarly experienced Verdi performers, although two notable leads will be making their Aida debuts.
In the title role, German soprano and former Cardiff Singer of the World champion Anja Harteros has firmly established her Verdi credentials having appeared in productions of La traviata, Il trovatore, Simon Boccanegra, La forza del destino, Don Carlo and Otello. This will however be her first time performing the role of the Ethopian princess.
Starring opposite Harteros will be superstar tenor Jonas Kaufmann, who is no stranger to Verdi’s heroic leads himself, although this too will be the tenor’s Aida debut in the role of the Egyptian warrior Radamès. Arguably the most famous tenor in the world, Kaufmann and Pappano have already collaborated in Italian opera for Warner Classics on two recordings of Puccini: Madama Butterly (also with the forces of Santa Cecilia) and Tosca (a live DVD from London’s Royal Opera House). He has also previously partnered with Harteros in productions Il trovatore, La forza del destino and Don Carlo.
Joining Kaufmann and Harteros is Russian mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk, who by contrast has numerous performances in this opera on her résumé having sung the role of Aida’s love rival Amneris at La Scala, Milan, the San Carlo in Naples, the Verona Arena and the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg. Also starring is velvet-toned French baritone Ludovic Tézier as Aida’s cunning warrior father, Amonasro and in the role of the implacable high priest Ramfis, Uruguyan bass Erwin Schrott, who also appears on the Warner Classics DVD of Verdi’s Les Vêpres siciliennes, recorded live under Pappano’s baton at the Royal Opera House in 2013.
Recorded this month in Rome’s most recently built concert hall, the Auditorium Parco della Musica, designed by Renzo Piano, the celebrated Italian architect behind London’s Shard skyscraper, the sensational cast will also give a concert performance at the same venue tomorrow evening, February 27, which unsurprisingly sold out months in advance. The superb acoustics of the 2800-seat concert hall has been able to accommodate all the spatial effects – such as off-stage chorus and woodwind and brass banda – that Verdi calls for in his score. The producer of the new recording, Stephen Johns, has also been able to evoke the opera’s towering temples and echoing tombs without the excessive need for electronic manipulation or digital effects. An Australian release date for the highly anticipated recording will be announced later in the year.
Closer to home, Australian fans of Verdi's Egyptian fantasy can enjoy Opera Australia's new production of Aida for this year's Opera on the Harbour. Directed by Gale Edwards and starring Latonia Moore and Daria Masiero, who share the title role, the sumptuous new production runs from March 27 to April 26.