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ClassicsOnline Home » VERDI: Aida (Tebaldi, del Monaco) (1952)
The British company Decca began recording complete operas in
Italy in 1951 when they made La Bohème (Naxos 8.110252-3). As a venue they
chose the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome, situated off the Via
del Corso in Via Condotte, near the Spanish Steps. The hall in which the
recording was made is long and narrow, with a very high ceiling and a fine
balcony, which also contained seats. The venue proved ideal for mono recording
with the control room in an adjoining room on the same ground floor level. This
recording of Aida was made in July 1952 and was a much larger undertaking than
the previous year’s efforts. The Triumphal Scene remains a challenge to any
recording engineer, even today, but the difficulties would have been far
greater fifty years ago with far fewer microphones and equipment that was much
prone to break down at crucial moments. Rome in July is also invariably very
The soprano Renata Tebaldi (b. 1922) studied at the Boito
Conservatorio in Parma, before making her début as Elena in Mefistofele at
Rovigo in 1944. She sang for Toscanini at the opening concert at the Teatro
alla Scala, Milan, in 1946. Later that season she was engaged as Eva in
Meistersinger and Mimì in La Bohème. Her first appearance outside Italy was in
Lisbon in 1949 and the following year Tebaldi made her London début as
Desdemona in Otello when the La Scala Company appeared at Covent Garden. Her
international introduction came through her first American engagement as Aida
in San Francisco in 1950, soon followed by three seasons in Rio de Janeiro. The
Italian soprano first sang at the Metropolitan in New York in 1955, a house she
would grace for seventeen further seasons before retiring from the stage in
1973 and the concert hall three years later. Tebaldi appeared regularly at the
Vienna State Opera and also sang in Chicago and Japan. As the most significant
Italian lirico spinto soprano during her career, she also recorded prolifically
for Decca over nearly a quarter of a century.
The Italian mezzo-soprano Ebe Stignani (1904-1974) studied
at the Conservatorio di San Pietro a Majella in Naples with Agostino Roche. She
made her début in that city in January 1925. The following year she sang in
Venice and in October first appeared at the Teatro alla Scala, Milan, in a
performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony under Toscanini. Two months later
she was Eboli in Don Carlo. Over the next four decades her rôles in this house
would include Adalgisa in Norma, Azucena in Il trovatore, Laura in La Gioconda
and Leonora in La favorita. In 1927 Stignani appeared at the Teatro Colón,
Buenos Aires, for the first of numerous seasons and at the Teatro Municipal,
São Paolo. She continued to sing in all the principal houses throughout Italy.
Her Covent Garden début in London was as Amneris in the 1937 Coronation season.
She would return again in 1939, in 1952 (with Callas in her London début as
Norma), 1955, 1957 (again with Callas in Norma) and, finally, in 1958 as an
unforgettable Azucena at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Her American
appearances were limited to San Francisco in 1938 and 1948, and Chicago in 1955
with Callas and Björling in Il trovatore. She retired in 1958, dying in Imola
in October 1974. She was the finest Italian mezzo-soprano of her generation,
and, whilst no great actor, always moved with dignity on the stage. She
The tenor Mario del Monaco (1915-1982) possessed one of the
most thrilling and powerful natural voices, which he used with energy and
dramatic intensity, and, at times, unremitting volume. Born in Florence, he
studied at the Pesaro Conservatorio before being encouraged by the Italian
conductor Tullio Serafin to take part in a competition organised by the Rome
Opera School, which he won. After six months Del Monaco left, dissatisfied with
the teaching, preferring to learn through recordings. His formal début was as
Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly at the Teatro Puccini, Rome, in 1941, whilst on
leave from the army. He then sang Radamès at the Verona Festival in summer
1946, and in the autumn appeared with the visiting San Carlo company from
Naples at Covent Garden in London, where he performed Rodolfo in
La bohème, Cavaradossi in Tosca and Canio in Pagliacci.
While in London he made his first recordings, for EMI, but these remain unpublished.
Continuing to sing in Italy, Del Monaco also appeared on the American continent
in Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires and Mexico City, before making his United
States début as Radames in San Francisco in 1950. November that year also saw
him make his New York appearance in Manon Lescaut. He continued to appear at
the Metropolitan until 1959, giving a total of 102 performances in all. In 1960
he toured Russia, singing at the Bolshoy Theatre in Moscow. His return to
London was in 1962 as Otello, a rôle he claimed to have sung on 427 occasions.
Retiring from the stage in 1973, he died near Venice, buried in his Otello
costume. This recording of Aida was Del Monaco’s first for Decca, for whom he
would record complete operas and recitals over a period of almost twenty years.
The baritone Aldo Protti (1920-1995) was born in Cremona and
studied in Parma. After war service he made his stage début as Figaro in Il
barbiere di Siviglia in Pesaro in 1948. Two years later he was engaged to sing
Amonasro, and Gérard in Andrea Chénier at La Scala, where he would appear until
1963. He sang throughout Italy and also visited Spain, the United States and
Switzerland. He was a regular member of the Vienna State Opera from 1957 for
the following decade, singing all the main Italian baritone rôles that suited
his voluminous tone. His last appearance was in 1989. He took part in two
recordings of Otello as Iago (1954 and 1961), the title-rôle of Rigoletto
(1953), as Germont père in La traviata (1954), Cilea’s L’arlesiana for the now
defunct label Colosseum, and Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci for Philips.
Of the bass Dario Caselli little is known, but he first sang
at La Scala in 1948 in Prokofiev’s Love for Three Oranges, and later appeared
in Aida, Fidelio and La forza del destino. His career was entirely based in
Italy. He took part in seven complete operas for Decca during the 1950s,
including Otello, Rigoletto, Manon Lescaut and La fanciulla del West, all with
Mario Del Monaco.
The rôle of the King is sung by Fernando Corena (1916-1984),
a Swiss bass, born of a Turkish father and Italian mother in Geneva. After
making his début in 1947 as Varlaam in Boris Godunov, his first Metropolitan
Opera engagement was in 1954 where he would sing until 1978. He sang the
title-rôle in Falstaff at the Edinburgh Festival in 1956 and appeared at Covent
Garden in 1960 and 1969. Corena was a fine linguist and a witty and inventive
comedian in buffo rôles. He recorded extensively for Decca, from Cimarosa and
Mozart to Verdi and Puccini.
The conductor Alberto Erede (1908-2001) was well known in
both Italy and Britain, and had conducted at Glyndebourne in 1938-39. He was
musical director of the short-lived but most enterprising New London Opera
Company at the Cambridge Theatre in the late 1940s. He was then hired by the
Metropolitan Opera in New York between 1950 and 1954 and became
Generalmusikdirektor at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein between the years 1958-1962.
Erede also conducted Lohengrin at Bayreuth in 1968. He recorded extensively,
both complete operas and as accompanist to singers and instrumentalists. He was
much admired for his excellent training of young singers and was a great
believer in ensemble work.
Prelude presents material characteristic of Aida, contrasted with the opposing
chant of the priests.
The scene is set in a hall in the palace of the King at
Memphis. On the left and right there is a colonnade with statues and flowering
shrubs. At the back is a great gate, through which are seen temples, the
palaces of Memphis and the pyramids.
Captain of the Guards, and the Chief Priest Ramfis are in conversation. Ramfis
tells of the rumour that the Ethiopians are again on the warpath, threatening
Thebes and the Nile Valley. Radamès asks Ramfis if he has consulted Isis and
Ramfis tells him that the goddess has decided the name of the supreme Egyptian
commander. He looks fixedly at Radamès and adds that the man chosen is brave
and young: now he must tell the King of the decision of Isis.
alone, Radamès wonders if he is the chosen man. This, after all, is his
ambition, to lead soldiers to victory to the acclaim of all Memphis. Then he
might return, garlanded with laurels, to his beloved Aida. He sings in praise
of his heavenly Aida, the queen of his thoughts. Victorious, he will set her free
to breathe again the air of her own land.
is joined by the Egyptian princess, Amneris, who notices the unusual joy that
now appears in his regard. She feels jealousy of the woman who has been able to
bring him such happiness. Radamès tells her that his heart has been filled with
a dream of fame: the goddess has chosen the leader of the Egyptian army, and he
might be the one. Amneris seeks to know whether he has not had another more
tender dream. Radamès wonders if she has guessed his secret, while she
expresses her own strong suspicion. He catches sight of Aida. Amneris sees his
look, but then turns to her slave, greeting her not as a slave but as a sister.
Aida fears the approaching war, anxious for her unhappy country, but Amneris
asks if this is really the reason for her anxiety. Aside, she bids her slave
tremble, and Radamès notices her anger, fearing her suspicious jealousy, while
Aida expresses her own misgivings.
King enters, preceded by his guards and followed by Ramfis, ministers, priests
and captains. He addresses his nobles. A messenger steps forward and tells how
the sacred soil of Egypt has been invaded by barbarous Ethiopians, destroying
fields and crops, soon ready to attack Thebes itself. The Ethiopian army is led
by a fierce warrior, Amonasro, their king, Aida’s father, as she exclaims in an
aside. Now, the King declares, is the time for war and Isis has declared the
name of the Egyptian leader, Radamès. He is delighted at this answer to his
prayers, while Aida is troubled. The ministers and captains shout the name of
Radamès in acclamation. The King bids him to the temple of Vulcan, there to
receive his weapons.
heroes, the King goes on, will arise to wreak death on the foreign aggressors.
Ramfis proclaims glory to the gods, who rule everything and hold the fate of
the warrior in their hands. Aida, in her mind, is divided whether to pray for
her lover or for her own country, while Radamès has no doubts about the glory
that awaits him. Amneris gives him the glorious banner, to guide and protect
him on the path of glory. The assembled ministers and captains shout their
defiance of the enemy, for Radamès will return as victor.
is left alone, haunted by these last words. She cannot wish Radamès victorious
over her own father, who fights to set her free and restore her to her rightful
place: Radamès would be victor over her brothers, stained with their blood, her
father brought in chains behind the conqueror’s chariot: she begs the gods not
to hear her mad words but to let the enemies of her people perish, but then
what of her love? How can she wish the death of Radamès? She dare not utter the
names of father and lover and trembles in confusion: only death can end her
The interior of the temple of Vulcan at Memphis is lit by a
mysterious light from above. There are long rows of columns and statues of
various gods. In the middle, above a platform covered with carpet, is an altar,
surmounted by sacred emblems. The smoke of incense rises from golden tripods.
Priests and priestesses stand with Ramfis at the foot of the altar.
priestess within the temple prays to the powerful god Phthà, her voice soon
joined by those of her priestesses, while Ramfis and his priests, before the
altar, invoke the god, father and son, source of light, life of the universe.
Radamès enters, unarmed. While he approaches the altar, the priestesses carry
out a sacred dance. A silver veil is placed over his head.
addresses Radamès, entrusting him with the destiny of Egypt. He gives him the
sacred sword, tempered by the god, to be a terror to their enemies. Ramfis
turns again to the altar, seeking the protection of the gods over the soil of
Egypt, a prayer echoed by Radamès. While he is invested in his sacred armour, the
priests and priestesses chant their prayer and perform their mystic dance.
The scene is a room in the quarters of Amneris in the
is surrounded by slaves, preparing her for the triumphal feast. The slaves sing
of a bold warrior, victorious and to be rewarded with love, while Amneris
wishes for her lover, to intoxicate her and make her happy. The slaves continue
their song of victory and love and there is a dance of little Moorish slaves to
entertain the princess. While the slave-girls sing, Amneris expresses her
secret thoughts, but is silent when she sees Aida approach, carrying the
victor’s garland. Amneris still harbours jealous suspicions in her heart.
kindness, Amneris turns to Aida, promising to be her friend and telling her to
be happy, but Aida cannot be happy, far from her own country, with the fate of
her father and brothers unknown. Time will heal her sorrows, and a powerful
god, love, Amneris assures her. This is more disturbing to Aida, divided in her
loyalties between joy and torment, while Amneris looks at her closely in
suspicion. She asks her to reveal her secret thoughts and tell her of her love:
does she love some hero in the battle? By some quirk of fate the leader of the
Egyptians has fallen in battle. Aida, believing what she has been told, is
distraught, promising to mourn Radamès for ever, only for Amneris to reveal
that the news was false: now, however, she is certain that Aida is her rival.
Aida openly admits her love for Radamès, but Amneris threatens her, since this
love can only bring death to her: she has power over Aida and has in her heart
feelings of hatred and revenge.
commands Aida to be with her at the triumphal celebration, while the voices of
the people are heard celebrating victory. For Aida nothing remains, her life is
a desert and she can only die. Amneris bids her follow, since she will teach
her to struggle with her. The people demand war and death to foreigners. Left
alone, Aida calls on the gods to pity her suffering.
In the foreground are palm-trees, to the right the temple of
Ammon and to the left a throne with a purple canopy above it. In the background
is a triumphal gateway.
people crowd round as the King enters, followed by ministers, priests,
captains, fan-bearers, standard-bearers, then Amneris with Aida and her
slave-girls. The King takes his seat on the throne and Amneris takes up her position
on the left of the King. The people sing glory to Egypt and to Isis and their
King. The women promise a laurel wreath for the brow of the victor and Ramfis,
with his priests, offers thanks to the gods.
Egyptian troops march in, preceded by fanfares, passing before the King. There
follow war chariots, standards, sacred vessels and statues of the gods. Dancing
girls follow, bearing the spoils of victory.
people sing the praises of the conquerors. Radamès enters under a canopy held
by twelve officers.
Scene 2 (continued)
King descends from the throne to embrace Radamès, who bows to Amneris, as she
offers him the crown of victory. The King promises him whatever he wants, but
he asks first for the prisoners to be brought in. These now enter, escorted by
guards, with Amonasro at the end, dressed as an officer. Aida recognises her
father and embraces him, but he whispers to her not to betray him. The King
bids him come forward.
tells the King that he is Aida’s father and has fought for his king and
country, but his king was killed in battle: if it is a crime to love their
country, then they all must die. He asks the King for mercy, for today they are
defeated, but tomorrow it may be the Egyptians who suffer. Aida joins the
prayer for mercy, while the prisoners echo Amonasro’s words. Ramfis and the
priests seek the death of the prisoners, while Amneris watches Aida and
Radamès, who finds Aida more beautiful in her distress. The King and the people
are inclined to mercy, but the priests remain adamant.
now asks the King to grant his request, which the King promises. He asks for
life and freedom for the prisoners, a request that surprises Amneris and is
opposed by the priests. Ramfis warns the King not to listen, since these
prisoners have vengeance in their hearts. Radamès claims that, now Amonasro is
dead, the warrior king, the defeated have no hope. Ramfis suggests that at
least Aida’s father, in fact Amonasro, should be kept as a hostage, and the
King agrees to this. As a reward the King grants Radamès the hand of his
daughter Amneris in marriage, to the latter’s triumphant delight.
and people join in proclaiming glory to Egypt, while the slaves and prisoners
praise the clemency of the King. Aida wonders what is now left for her, only
the tears of disappointed love, and Radamès, appalled by this turn of fate,
declares that the land of Egypt is no recompense for the love of Aida. Amneris,
meanwhile, is delighted at the apparent fulfilment of her dreams and Ramfis
prays that the fates be propitious over Egypt. Amonasro takes the chance to
tell Aida to take courage, since revenge is at hand.
Introduction. By the banks of the Nile granite rocks are
seen, from which palm-trees grow. Above the rocks is seen the temple of Isis,
half hidden by foliage. It is a starry night and the moon shines brightly.
voices of priests and priestesses are heard from the temple, singing to Isis,
immortal mother and wife of Osiris. A boat comes to the shore and Amneris
disembarks, with Ramfis, some of the court women, veiled, and guards. Ramfis
addresses Amneris, bidding her to the temple on the eve of her marriage, to
seek divine favour. She says that she will pray that Radamès give her his whole
heart, as she gives hers to him. They enter the temple, as the priests and
priestesses continue their hymn.
enters cautiously, apparently summoned by Radamès and wondering what he will
say to her, since this must be their last farewell. She remembers the blue
skies, the sweet breezes, green hills and flowing rivers of her own country,
which she will never see again.
Aida’s surprise, Amonasro approaches and tells her he knows of her troubles,
with the daughter of Pharaoh, ruler of their hated enemies, her rival in love.
She laments that she is in their power, but Amonasro assures her that she can
again have country, throne and love: their people are ready to attack and Aida
herself can discover from Radamès the route of the Egyptian armies. She is
horrified at the suggestion that she should betray Radamès. Amonasro then calls
on the cohorts of Egypt to destroy his people and country. Aida begs him to
pity her, but he continues to tell her of the horrors of war that her country
will suffer and from which she can save her people: otherwise she will have the
curse of her mother and be disowned by her father, to remain an Egyptian slave.
Aida begs again for pity, but he tells her that she must have the courage to
help her country. He withdraws and hides among the palm-trees.
now joins Aida. She asks him what he wants, since he is to marry Amneris. He
assures her that he loves her alone: she must not doubt his love. She asks how
he can defy the King and brave the anger of the priests, but Radamès tells her
that danger again threatens, for the Ethiopians have again invaded Egypt: he
will earn the gratitude of the King and the reward he wants. Aida warns him to
beware the vengeful fury of Amneris, which will fall on her, her father and
everyone. Radamès promises to defend her, but Aida tells him he cannot: one way
is open to him, flight.
tells Radamès that they must escape together to a new country, where they can
love each other.
exclaims on the idea of seeking refuge in a foreign land, abandoning his own
country, the altars of his gods, the land where he won glory. She accuses him
of not loving her, if he will not join her in flight: he must go to the altar
with Amneris. Radamès gives way: let them fly together from these walls to the
desert, where stars will shine upon their love. Aida adds her nostalgic
memories of her native land, where they can be happy together. Together they
dream of escape. As they are about to hurry away, Aida pauses. She asks him the
route to be taken by the Egyptian armies, apparently so that they may avoid
them in their flight. He tells her that the approach chosen will remain
unguarded that night and she elicits from him the information that the army
will attack through the gorges of Napata.
emerges from hiding, announcing that his men will be there waiting. In reply to
the question of Radamès, he reveals his identity as Aida’s father, Amonasro,
king of Ethiopia. Radamès is aghast and cannot believe what he has heard. When
assured by Aida of the truth of the claim, he is horrified at his own
treachery. Amonasro declares this the work of fate and invites Radamès to cross
the Nile with him and join the Ethiopians, to be rewarded by the hand of Aida.
At this point Amneris, Ramfis, priests and guards emerge from the temple.
Amneris declares Radamès a traitor, while Aida recognises the power of her
rival. Amonasro threatens Amneris with his dagger, but is prevented from
killing her by Radamès. Ramfis calls the guards, while Radamès tells Aida and
her father to escape, prepared himself to stay.
The scene is a hall in the palace of the King. To the left a
great door leads to a subterranean court of justice, while a passage on the
right leads to the prison of Radamès.
crouches by the door, regretting the escape of her rival: Radamès will be
condemned as a traitor, although he is not, but yet he wanted to escape with Aida:
she would save him, if she could.
is brought in by the guards, and Amneris foresees his condemnation by the
priests: yet he can still save himself and she will intercede with her father
for him. Radamès vows he will say nothing in his defence. Amneris tells him
that if he does not defend himself, he must die, but he would welcome death.
She urges him to choose life, through her love: she will sacrifice country,
throne and life for him. He, however, sacrificed his country and his honour for
Aida, who is now dead. Amneris assures him that Aida is still alive: her father
was killed, but she survived. She asks him to abjure his love for Aida, if she
is to save him, but that he cannot do, preferring to die. Angry, she threatens
revenge, if he rejects her love, but he declares death a great good: he has no
fear of human anger. Amneris, however, still threatens revenge.
is taken away, escorted by the guards. Amneris, now alone, sits, in despair,
wishing to save Radamès and blaming herself for his capture. She turns and sees
the priests crossing to enter the subterranean court, exclaiming on these
inexorable ministers of death. She covers her face with her hands, blaming
herself for the arrest of Radamès. Ramfis and the priests seek divine guidance,
while Amneris prays for the release of Radamès, who is now taken down to the
court, to her increased dismay.
by the priests, Radamès makes no answer. The accusers renew their demands and
Amneris her prayers for mercy, while Radamès remains silent and is condemned to
be immured, living, in the tomb. Amneris pleads for him, but in vain, and she
ends by cursing them, as they go out.
The scene is divided into two levels, the upper representing
the interior of the temple of Vulcan, splendid in its gold and light. The lower
reveals an underground chamber, with long arcades disappearing into the
darkness. There are great statues of Isis and Osiris with crossed hands,
supporting the pillars of the court above. Radamès is there, on the steps
leading to the chamber. Two priests above are sealing the entrance with a
prepares for death in the tomb, never to see the light again or his beloved
Aida. At this moment Aida reveals herself.
explains how she has hidden herself there, anticipating his death, and here she
too will die, in his arms. Radamès is overcome with emotion, that she, so pure
and beautiful, will die for love of him and perish in the flower of her youth.
Almost in a trance, she tells him to see the angel of death drawing near:
Heaven now awaits them. The voices of the priests are heard from the temple
above, praying to great Phtha, a sad song, Aida says, the triumph of the
priests, their hymn of death. Radamès tries to move the stone that seals the
chamber, but in vain.
they bid the earth farewell, while the priests continue their chant, and
Amneris, dressed in mourning, appears in the temple, throwing herself upon the
stone that seals the underground vault. In the crypt below Aida dies in the
arms of her lover, while Amneris prays to Isis for them and the priests still
call on the great god Phtha.
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VERDI: Aida (Tebaldi, del Monaco) (1952)