[Met Performance] CID:204920
Aida {721} Metropolitan Opera House: 12/29/1965.

(Debuts: Nicola Ghiuselev, Raymond Michalski, Zubin Mehta

Metropolitan Opera House
December 29, 1965

AIDA {721}
Giuseppe Verdi--Antonio Ghislanzoni

Aida....................Gabriella Tucci
Radamès.................Franco Corelli
Amneris.................Rita Gorr
Amonasro................Anselmo Colzani
Ramfis..................Nicola Ghiuselev [Debut]
King....................Raymond Michalski [Debut]
Messenger...............Robert Nagy
Priestess...............Mary Ellen Pracht
Dance...................Edith Jerell
Dance...................Naomi Marritt
Dance...................Patricia Heyes
Dance...................Howard Sayette
Dance...................Harry Jones
Dance...................Donald Mahler

Conductor...............Zubin Mehta [Debut]

Production..............Nathaniel Merrill
Designer................Robert O'Hearn
Choreographer...........Katherine Dunham

Aida received eleven performances this season.

Review of Irving Kolodin in the Saturday Review

Mehta at the Metropolitan

Zubin Mehta's debut at the Metropolitan as conductor of Verdi's "Aida" had the unconventional outcome inherent in the unconventional circumstances. Or is it an everyday, every-year occurrence for a conductor born not even thirty years ago in Bombay, who has spent most of his professional life before symphony orchestras, to take on as big a work as the opera repertory contains for a debut? The question contains its own answer: admiration for what he achieved by innate talent and a cool command of the situation; wonder that he had not prepared himself better for the routine of this highly complicated calling.

There is, of course, routine and "routine." The latter is the kind that both Mehta and the receptive listener abhor - the comfortable couch of conformity on which the indolent mind can settle back and relax. He has the quick intelligence, the volatile kind of temperament, the complete absorption with the task before him that define the rare and useful spirit. But there is also the kind of routine that comes from measured development and thorough indoctrination in the craft of the theater. This bears not so much on what to do as how to do it; and this is the respect in which the sum of Mehta's "Aida" was less than the whole of its parts.

Too much of Mehta's effort, for example, was directed toward the orchestra, too little toward the stage. To be sure, there was a good deal of conspicuous gesturing and ostentatious flashing of cues, the while the principals paid more attention to the prompter. But the part of the performance that really needed his help (the dance episodes in Amneris's apartment and the ballet of the Triumphal Scene) was converted into an accompaniment to his orchestral exhibitionism. Some of it came out extremely well, with clarity and finesse where, at some times past, approximation has prevailed. Some of it was unduly noisy, as Mehta succumbed to the novice's temptation of confusing loudness with vigor and haste with excitement. Where Verdi did most with orchestral color and scene painting (in the "Nile Scene") Mehta did least, as if impatient with its quiet.

In his relations with the individual singers, Mehta seemed to be proceeding on the basis of an armistice, or armed truce, in which they would follow him at certain places where his choice of tempi was unconventional (mostly faster than usual), and he would accept their prerogatives in long-held top notes and dynamics generally. Thus he permitted Franco Corelli to blast away with the usual fortissimo B flat at the end of "Celeste Aida" without respect for Verdi's marking not only of p (piano) but also morendo ( dying away). And he made little effort to control the wild lurches of Rita Gorr, as Amneris, at any top note within reach, or to make something neater of the top C in "O patria mid" than the tone to which Gabriella Tucci as Aida clung as long as its vibrations lasted (though Verdi does not even permit her the latitude of a fermata). This is not the kind of complaisance that goes with the formidable face of disciplinarian that Mehta turned toward the orchestra.

At many moments, Mehta's treatment was exciting to hear, but there were as many others in which he made Verdi's scoring sound explosive and crude - which is hardly in its character. More than a fair share of these came in those passages in which he drove ahead at tempi faster than usual. Some of these struck me as derived from the Toscanini recording, but they did not show Mehta's awareness of Toscanini's own oft-repeated view that such tempi were necessary in a broadcast or a concert performance, where stage action was lacking, but were not to be construed as what he considered appropriate for the theater.

Mehta clearly has the makings of a superior opera conductor, but there is no shortcut to mastery in this artistic arena, any more than there is in the concert
hall. It is his bad as well as good fortune to attract a Nureyev-like following,
which began to cheer before he had lifted a baton. Doubtless these are sweet sounds to his ears, but it would be unwise for him to consider them as more meaningful than they are.

It should not be overlooked, in the lion's share of the roar that accrued to Mehta, that there were two other debuts, both of more than casual quality. One was that of the tall, Bulgarian-born basso Nicola Ghiuselev, who has a fine resonant sound (a little short at the bottom for the music of Ramfis ) to go with his admirable bearing; the other was that of the short, Bayonne-born Raymond Michalski, who provided a rich, deep sound for the King (an ancestor, clearly, of Vittorio Emmanuele III in this impersonation). Both should be heard often in the future.

Of the more familiar singers, the best effort was Anselmo Colzani's Amonasro, a fierce bristling figure of a tribal chieftain. He has expanded his command both of the action and the vocal line to the point where he is now the best the Metropolitan has to offer in this part. And when she was not overdoing the prima donna's prerogatives, Tucci's Aida showed a marked growth in vocal breadth over what it has been in past seasons, and a larger share of assertiveness, too. On the whole, the Metropolitan's "Aida," with its imposing visual frame by Robert O'Hearn, is now better than it has been since Georg Solti put it together, but it has far to go to achieve the finesse it first possessed.

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