By Lynne Gray, PhD
Note: You can watch this at www.metopera.org.
Friday, May 1
Viewers’ Choice: Verdi’s Aida ~ 2Hrs and 45Mins
Starring Leontyne Price, Fiorenza Cossotto, James McCracken, and Simon Estes, conducted by James Levine. Transmitted live on January 3, 1985.
This was one of the most emotional evenings in Met history—the night that Leontyne Price bid farewell to the opera stage. Aida was only one of the roles that inspired audiences around the world to proclaim her as the greatest Verdi soprano of her time, and she sang it beautifully for 28 years (her Met career lasted 24 years). James Levine was in the pit that night, conducting the Met orchestra, chorus, and ballet. In 2007, PBS viewers voted her singing of Aida’s Act III aria, “O patria mia”, as the No. 1 “Great Moment” in 30 years of “Live from the Met” telecasts.
Unfortunately, I doubt the quality of this recording will be anything close to today’s standards, but it will still be well worth hearing the amazing voice that finally broke the color line on so many of this country’s opera stages.
In case you missed my earlier (April 6) Aida pre-view (Netrebko and Antonenko), I repeat the basics here for convenience. Be aware that a full hour of the usual opera was cut from this made for TV version, so there will be holes if you are used to the complete opera.
Despite its monumental setting, Aida is actually an intimate opera filled with beautiful, deeply emotional duets and trios among all of the principals (Aida, Radamès, Amneris and Amonasro) – and an absolutely incredible ending duet/trio (“O terra addio”). It is set amidst the great pyramids and temples of Egypt in a time of war. Aida is a princess of Ethiopia, captured in battle and made the servant of Amneris, the princess of Egypt, who like everyone else, is unaware of Aida’s royalty. At the very beginning of the opera, we hear the famous tenor aria, “Celeste Aida,” and learn that the Egyptian captain, Radamès, is desperately in love with the slave, Aida. He prays to be made Commander of the army and hopes to be able to ask for her hand as his reward for defeating the invading Ethiopian army.
Aida secretly returns his love and this, of course, is where the complications begin to mount! The Ethiopians, led by their King, Amonasro (Aida’s father), are invading Egypt in order to free Aida. She is distraught over having to choose between her father and her lover. Her aria, “Ritorna vincitor” is another of the opera’s many famous highlights in which she can’t help but wish for Radamès’ safe return but is horrified that it would mean the defeat of her own father and country.
The third point in this tragic triangle is Amneris – who also loves Radamès and suspects that she has a rival. She cruelly tricks Aida into revealing her love for Radamès and then assures the stricken Aida that it will be Amneris’ hand that Radamès is given for his victory.
In the end, Radamès is cruelly caught in a two-way trap with no way out. His securing of pardons for Amonasro and Aida before his forced marriage to Amneris, brings on tragic consequences, but produces one of opera’s most beautiful and moving finales.
1. Leontyne Price’s curtain call in Verdi’s “Aida” at the Metropolitan Opera. Credit… Metropolitan Opera.
2. Leontyne Price as Aida and Fiorenza Cossotto as Amneris in Verdi’s “Aida” at the Met. Credit… Beth Bergman / Met Opera.
3. Leontyne Price as Aida in Verdi’s “Aida” at the Metropolitan Opera. Credit… Beth Bergman / Met Opera.
4. James McCracken as Radamès and Leontyne Price as Aida in Verdi’s “Aida” at the Metropolitan Opera. Credit… Beth Bergman / Met Opera.