[Met Performance] CID:136740
Aida {464} Metropolitan Opera House: 02/4/1944.


Metropolitan Opera House
February 4, 1944

AIDA {464}
Giuseppe Verdi--Antonio Ghislanzoni

Aida....................Zinka Milanov
Radamès.................Kurt Baum
Amneris.................Bruna Castagna
Amonasro................Alexander Sved
Ramfis..................Ezio Pinza
King....................Lansing Hatfield
Messenger...............John Dudley
Priestess...............Thelma Votipka
Dance...................Nina Youskevitch
Dance...................Marina Svetlova
Dance...................Monna Montes
Dance...................Robert Armstrong
Dance...................Michael Arshansky
Dance...................Alexis Dolinoff
Dance...................Leon Varkas

Conductor...............Wilfred Pelletier

Director................Désiré Defrère
Set designer............Angelo Parravicini
Costume designer........Ethel Fox
Choreographer...........Laurent Novikoff

Aida received seven performances this season.

[A. Parravicini was not credited as set designer, though the scenery was his, repainted by Joseph Novak.]

Review of Olin Downes in The New York Times


Baum, Sved, Castagna in Excellent Form -- Pelletier is Conductor

When an opera is so great that it is virtually foolproof it often suffers a disadvantage in performance, since it is known that even a lackadaisical presentation will probably be enough for it to entertain the public. But when that opera is given a full-fledged interpretation by a strong cast and by an artistic direction which is in dead earnest, there is the opportunity to realize the full grandeur and power of a masterpiece, and this was the case when "Aida" was given last night in the Metropolitan Opera House.

There was no routine moment in this performance. There was no principal role of which the proponent was inadequate to its requirements-and it may be said that there are few operas in the entire repertory which so completely exploit the possibilities of the different kinds of voices as this chef d'oeuvre of Verdi. The superb music-drama was conveyed always with passion, and in the grand manner and with a plenitude of tone in song.

Wilfred Pelletier conducted the orchestra, and he was a propulsive agent to be reckoned with. Sometimes he was precipitate, always he led with intensity, excitement and effect. Momentum, impact and significance of the orchestral commentary were maintained. And fortunately the singers had voices fully able to cope with the sonorous demands of ensembles and climaxes.

Thrill of the Voices

In these ensembles the voices of Zinka Milanov and Kurt Baum, with the voices of lower register equally adjustable, soared over the massed effect of chorus and orchestra in a way that brought the old thrill to the spine-the kind of intoxication, at such moments, as was oftener the privilege of our forefathers in the great old days of grand opera singing than of ourselves in this present period which tends to tenuity and refinements.

But if it had been only this kind of an effect one could soon have tired of the sensation. All the singing, solo and choral, was animated and directed by dramatic impulse. The great procession scene, usually treated as a passage of mere spectacle and bang, was a scene of great conflicting passions, upon which palpably, hung the future of every participant in the drama. Who will forget Mr. Sved, the Amonasro in this scene, confronting his captors, chanting for life or death his invincible pride and passion for his native land? He was not alone. Mme. Milanov's magnificent voice has seldom been used with such complete effect, variety of color and emotional communication.

And she has by nature and instinct the grand manner. She may not always be articulate in bodily plastic, or even in the quality of her song, but she has a presence, and a glorious voice. She is a soprano for Aida. There was the manly and vibrant tenor of Mr. Baum, whose song was not that of a tenor with a B-flat masquerading as an Egyptian, but the utterance of a youth and a warrior. The great scene of the third act, of Radames, his country and his trust betrayed, was something to move the beholder, who in any event would hardly have been able to resist the magnificent music.

The Part of Amneris

One can go on with the part of Amneris, so expressively conveyed by the rich-voiced Castagna, who is somewhat at a disadvantage as regards physical stature in this part, but whose scenes with Radames and the priests-as great a portrait of a proud and passionate woman, as noble a passage of dramatic music as Verdi ever penned-was also something to remember.

Mr. Pinza's splendid voice and authority as the high priest was a strong supplementary feature. The chorus and the unusually spectacular evolutions of the ballet invited and received applause, which often interrupted the evening's progress.

The collective impression of the occasion invited fresh tribute to and realization of the beauty, the flooding inspiration, the unconditional greatness of the opera "Aida." Probably, after all is said and done, and when the verdicts of present and future generations are in, it will emerge as Verdi's supreme opera. For it is well nigh without an inequality of style or structure or invention. In an early Verdi score like "Rigoletto" the listener is astonished by prophetic passages which in ideas and technique are decades ahead of the body of the work. In "Otello," which is almost epochal, there are conventional places which look backward. "Falstaff" is in a more subtle and unified manner, but is weaker in emotion, if not in actual invention, than certain of the earlier works. "Aida" has everything, and when it is freshly revealed, as last night, one has simply to marvel and thrill at a masterpiece.

From the review of Virgil Thomson in the New York Herald Tribune:

If Verdi's "Aida," well performed, couldn't get the Suez Canal open handsomely (for which purposes it was composed), nothing could. Last night's performance of this sumptuous pageant at the Metropolitan reminded one of all the grand spectacles like that, of the films of Cecil de Mille and David Wark Griffith and of d'Annunzio's "Cabiria," all of which were inspired by its model. It is not that there had been any noticeable new expenditures for scenery or any extraordinary replanning of the spectacle. It is simply that the work was magnificently sung and so excitingly paced that this opera, which is more often than not stodgy, came off as a completely thrilling entertainment.

Everybody had a good big voice and everybody sang with style. One is used to a fine Amneris from Bruna Castagna and a fine anything from Ezio Pinza. One is used to taking pleasure in Thelma Votipka's unique quality of voice. One is used to sound and robust singing from Kurt Baum whenever one gets a chance to hear him, which is all too infrequently. But one does not often receive the vocal satisfaction from Alexander Sved and from Zinka Milanov that one did last night.

Mr. Sved has once before given us an operatic performance that was complete and distinguished both as to singing and as to dramatic presentation. That was a Scarpia in "Tosca," a year or two back. Otherwise he was always a bit mealy-mouthed. His Amonasro last night, in a cast of stars, topped them all for elegant presentation of character and equaled the best of them in vocal beauty.

Miss Milanov has made progress too. Always the possessor of a remarkably beautiful voice, she was formerly most undependable as to pitch, to placement and to power. She is still not a perfect vocalist, but her tremolo is subsiding, and her placement is more unified throughout her range than it was. She has developed a remarkably touching low register, and her powerful high notes are often of the utmost beauty. She was a great satisfaction in the big ensemble numbers, where she sailed out high and clear and usually right on pitch.

Her musical intelligence is probably not unusual. But she seems to have sound musical instincts, and certainly she is singing far better than in former seasons. With a voice of such transcendent beauty as hers and with the sort of conscientious discipline she is obviously submitting it to, she could become of the great opera singers of our century; and I suspect she will. Already the increased freedom of her emission has (and this is true equally of Mr. Sved) given ease to her stage presence and a greater intensity to her characterizations.

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