Sunday 3 May 2015

Grand if not subtle - 'Aida' at Covent Garden

Ljuba Welitsch
Ljuba Welitsch
Verdi Aida; Ljuba Welitsch, Franz Lechleitner, Edith Coates, Kenneth Schon,
conducted: Warwick Braithwaite, directed: Michael Benthall; Covent Garden
Reviewed by Our London Music Critic on Oct 16 1949
From The Scotsman, 17 October 1949

Of all grand operas Aida has many claims to be called the grandest. There are no half-measures about the spectacle in the Covent Garden production. The stage picture in Act II, for instance, is an opulent study: as a general once summed up his impressions of the last war, "The noise! and the people!"

The vast Covent Garden stage is built up into an impressive group of steps and Egyptian stonework. All the available standing room is occupied by principals, dancers, an enormous number of chorus, two brass bands braying antiphonally at each other, with six mediators up-stage with long, natural trumpets. Add to this a hundred or so gentlemen in the orchestra pit and you begin to get some idea of Act II of Aida at the Garden.

There is in fact, only one thing missing and that is animals. I have had a strong desire to see animals in Aida ever since I read that, at a recent production of it in the Hollywood Bowl the services of the Los Angeles Zoo were called upon to such effect that the Grand March had to be played seven and a half times before all the animals were assembled on the stage.

Warwick Braithwaite was in charge of the performance at Covent Garden. His tempi were good and he secured an excellent performance from the orchestra and knew how, and when to accompany his singers. Two qualities about the singers, especially, and the orchestra were missing: without them the performance was still excellent: with them the performance would have really been something wonderful: the first thing was a touch of real fire occasionally, the second thing needed was a little more subtlety, for, in spite of its grandness, Aida can easily be over-emphasised.


Edith Coates
Edith Coates
As Aida, Ljuba Welitsch's fine, strong voice rode well over chorus and orchestra. But she was a little larger than life size. The prayer in Ritorna Vincitor was a veritable command. Her phrasing left much to be desired. Her acting was intense: but there was too much shading of the eyes though this was probably meant to be Egyptian posturing.

Kenneth Schon was the latest Amonasro: no black, savage warrior King of Ethiopia but a gentle, grey-haired, lilywhite-skinned old gentleman who nearly collapsed under Aida's reconciliation embrace. His voice is firm and sound but lacking in vitality and dynamic power so that the savage cry of Su, dunque went for nought.

Edith Coates is at her very best as Amneris and she brought the house down with her performance in Act IV. But then she always does.

The new Radames is Franz Lechleitner. His voice is strong, nel stile Tedesco, and he shouted a little the other evening. He seemed a little disinterested with his two quarrelling women, but I suppose he felt that having go his top B flat in Celeste Aida in the first ten minutes of the opera, the evening was over for him.
Reviewed by Our Music Critic
Taken from The Scotsman, 17 October 1949

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