[Met Performance] CID:196000
New production
Aida {682} Metropolitan Opera House: 10/14/1963.

(Opening Night {79}
Rudolf Bing, General Manager

Debut: Khemfoia Tol Padu , Jess Oliver, Katherine Dunham

Metropolitan Opera House
October 14, 1963
Opening Night {79}
New production

Rudolf Bing, General Manager

AIDA {682}
Giuseppe Verdi--Antonio Ghislanzoni

Aida....................Birgit Nilsson
Radamès.................Carlo Bergonzi
Amneris.................Irene Dalis
Amonasro................Mario Sereni
Ramfis..................Giorgio Tozzi
King....................John Macurdy
Messenger...............Robert Nagy
Priestess...............Mary Ellen Pracht
Dance...................Khemfoia Tol Padu [Debut]
Dance...................Edith Jerell
Dance...................Marsha Warren
Dance...................Katharyn Horne
Dance...................Howard Sayette
Dance...................Jess Oliver [Debut]

Conductor...............Georg Solti

Director................Nathaniel Merrill
Designer................Robert O'Hearn
Choreographer...........Katherine Dunham [Debut]

Production a gift of American Export and Isbrandtsen Lines

Aida received twenty-four performances this season.

Review of Jay Harrison in the November 1963 issue of Musical America

The Metropolitan Opera's 79th season began on October 14 with a twofold spectacle-one off stage and one on. As to the former, the house was filled with chinchillas and tiaras and clothes of every describable texture and color, while accounting for the latter was a new production of Verdi's "Aida" conducted by Georg Solti and featuring Birgit Nilsson, as the heroine; Carlo Bergonzi, as Radames; Irene Dalis, as Amneris; Giorgio Tozzi, as Ramfis; and Mario Sereni, as Amonasro. Lesser roles were undertaken by John Macurdy, as the King; Robert Nagy, as a messenger; and Mary Ellen Pracht, as a priestess.

The first question that arises is whether or not the current "Aida" surpasses its previous incarnation at the Met. The answer to this is simple, for indeed it does, though in a very curious way. While the previous "Aida" was rather paltry and lacking in glamour, what we have now is a sumptuous production straight out of Hollywood. Cecil B. De Mille is its godfather, and every scene is guided-in sets, costumes and action-by the ghost of Mr. Dc Mille's exotic spectaculars. The Met's new "Aida" is massive, busy, everywhere grand and not a shade brainless. In mounting the work, Nathaniel Merrill has concentrated on all things lavish, even to the point that in the simple Nile Scene he and the designer, Robert O'Hearn, have seen fit to include at stage left a mountain which might satisfy even devotees of "The Ring."

In other words, nothing is left to the imagination so far as pomp and pageantry arc concerned. The whole production was clearly devised to be grand and glorious, as much of it is, the only exception being the Entombment Scene, which appears to be taking place in an abandoned mine shaft. Especially striking are the colors used throughout the production, which tend toward browns and are set off by the whole complement of shades which make browns glow like amber. Understand, there is nothing original to all this: the new "Aida" is new in name only. All its visual effects are old-hat and have been seen on countless other occasions. But there is a certain majesty to it, an opulence of design, if you will, that no other company in America is capable of producing.

Much the same can he said of Mr. Merrill's direction. It is standard, forthright and admits of no avant-garde monkeyshines. Every artist does precisely what you would expect him to do under the circumstances and, while there is no show of imagination, there is nothing either that touches on had taste. It is all very proper and calculated and, in the final analysis, a mite dull. Even the Triumphal Scene, with all its hundreds crammed onto the stage, is not overpowering; it is impressive, yes, but does not make the senses totter.

As to the singing, it too, was only a shade above the conventional. Miss Nilsson, rumor had it, was ailing, which may have been responsible for some unfocused tones that in the case of "O Patria Mia" became severely marked. Besides, she is a rather cold, detached Aida - she walks through the part with outlandish, silent-film gestures and rarely seems to get involved with the other characters who control her destiny. She is, in short, a puppet whose strings have got tangled.

Carlo Bergonzi, the Radames of the evening, is not an heroic tenor, which, unfortunately, made him seem somewhat lightweight for the role. His "Celeste Aida," for example, was notable for its lyric warmth, but the "ring," the brazenness the part requires was never a part of his performance. There is no question that his tenor is lovely-elegant, in fact. But we expect a Radames to be braver, more triumphant in his singing.

Actually, the best vocal work of the occasion came from Irene Dalis, as Amneris. All that is insidious about the part, all that is mean and calculating-and also warm-were distilled into a mezzo essence that lighted up the stage at every turn. And Miss Dalis' artistic growth over the past four seasons is a pleasure to view and behold. As for Mario Sereni, as Amonasro, he was a bit faint of heart-and voice. He is not a bold baritone by any stretch of the imagination, and the role's venomous aspects were not for an instant in evidence. Quite the opposite is true of Giorgio Tozzi, whose basso thundered like waves upon rock. Thus, his Ramfis was memorable and momentous.

Georg Solti, conducting the work for the first time at the house, is a specialist for dealing with inner detail, though on October 14 his prowess seemed to have deserted him. The playing in the pit was adequate, moderate and withal a bit dull. Perhaps the orchestra had exhausted itself during rehearsals; it certainly sounded as though it had.

A final word for Katherine Dunham's choreography, which was hilarious. She had people doing the twist on stage and shimmying, too, as though she imagined the entire business was a hoax. All the dancers appear to be Zulus afflicted with advanced symptoms of neuritis. At any rate, the ballet detracted mightily from an "Aida" which was, from the outset, a shaky affair. Despite its attempt at grandeur, it failed to match the vigor of the composer's incredible score.

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