Aida (complete opera) (1953)

by | Dec 26, 2006 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Aida (complete opera) (1953)

Director: Clemente Fracassi
Starring (Onscreen): Sophia Loren, Lois Maxwell, Luciano Della Marra, Afro Poli, Antonio Cassinelli
Performers: Renata Tebaildi, Ebe Stignani, Giuseppe Campora, Gino Bechi, Giulio Neri/ Rome Opera Ballet Corps/ Italian State Radio Orchestra/ Giuseppe Morelli
Studio: DVD 616 (Distrib. Qualiton)
Video: 4:3, Color, All Regions; Italian, no subtitles
Audio: Dolby Surround Sound 
Length: 96 minutes
Rating: ***

From United Artists, Rome, we have Clemente Fracassi’s cinematic version of Verdi’s Aida, with English narration to illuminate the plot-line. Mounted on a large scale, with outdoor horse and battle scenes, large sets of Egyptian Memphis, and a huge cast of extras and real desert, the film captures a panorama of which the opera can only hint. A dark-skinned Sophia Loren plays the Ethiopian captive Aida, beloved of the Egyptian warrior Radames. Actor Luciano Della Marra looks a cross between Edmund Purdom and Kirk Douglas. The singing cast is superb, with Renata Tebaldi in top form, as is Ebe Stignani’s jealous, vituperative Amneris. The lip-sync qualities leave much to be desired, but the effect is operatic enough, and dusky Loren projects the requisite conflict between love and patriotic duty to make her scenes believable. Whether a slave ever had it so good, with a change of gown for every mood, is another matter. While the singers make music, the actors remain static, so what we have are color portraits of Sophia Loren hugging a palm tree. The interior sets, like the Temple of Isis, are elaborate; the exteriors too often betray their painted backdrops, in the manner of Hollywood B pictures.

Afro Poli make for an imposing Amonasro, proud, insolent, demanding. His “Take courage” after requiring Aida to convince Radames to give up his army’s plan of battle is quite effective. Lois Maxwell is Miss Moneypenny from early James Bond, and she keeps a ramrod spine through most of her appearances. Amneris must swallow her own pride to convince Radames to renounce his love for Aida, well played in a tunnel-scene with Edgar Allen Poe décor. Stolidly, Radames refuses, leaving Amneris to watch the guards‚ processional as they lead Radames to his doom. The Pharoah (the bass voice of Giulio Neri) condemns Radames to a living death. The décor looks like it came from the 1935 version of She, with Randolph Scott. Amneris’ pleas with priests (sacerdoti) prove futile; each level of society is frozen in its righteous attitude. Once in his tomb, Giuseppe Campora can relish his lyric pathos, his voice a combination of flexible, strong tenor with spinto power. Aida has guessed Radames’ fate and joins him in smothering death. The camera cuts above ground, to the dancers of Isis who intone their ceremonial farwell to the entombed lovers. Tebaldi soars in Aida’s final aria, smooth as silk to actor Della Marra’s wooden face. Our final shot has Amneris before the altar of Isis, the voices of the lovers over her lament.

Audience applause has been spliced unto the finale. One caveat: the color composition on this video has become muddy, the colors often blurring into each other. But as an effective, visual condensation of the opera, it does a good job.

— Gary Lemco

[An alternate viewpoint from Amazon’s user reviews: “Sonically it is 50s bad; visually it is not cleanly transferred; there are major cuts and disjoints.”]

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