A few months ago, I reviewed this performance HERE as part of a comparative review of five different Aida recordings, so I don’t propose to go into too much detail, as you can read that review by clicking on the above link.
As for the sound, this Warner re-master is a good deal better than the old Virtuoso version I owned before, which was almost unlistenable, but, yet again, in conversation with other Callas fans on the net, I am told that there are better versions than Warner out there, not least Ars Vocalis. The problem with this is that these can be difficult to come by (only available for a short time on ebay) and the Warners are readily and cheaply available from Amazon and the like. As such, this Warner re-master is not at all bad, and easily more listenable than what I had before, the voices coming through much more clearly.
To reiterate what I said back in March, this is a performance in primary colours, which befits its surroundings. The audience is a palpable presence, and when Callas hurls out that magnificent top Eb in the Triumphal Scene, they almost tear the place apart. Subtlety, from any of the singers, is not to be expected, though Callas of course sings with her customary musical intelligence. She is in superb voice throughout, though the top C climax to O patria mia, a firm but not exactly dolce note, is not ideal. She recovers quickly to sing a seethingly dramatic Nile Scene with Giuseppe Taddei’s excellent, implacable and forceful Amonasro. My yardstick for this duet has always been the Callas/Gobbi confrontation on the studio set, but this one is almost its equal. What it lacks is Serafin’s superbly sympathetic conducting (I know of no other conductor who makes the violins weep the way he does in those repeated figures as Aida sings about how much her country costs her). In any case, no other soprano digs as deeply into the words as she does at O patria, patria, quanto mi costi. On this occasion, unusually for her, she adds some extraneous sobs, which she will eschew in both the performance under Barbirolli at Covent Garden in 1953, and for the studio recording of 1955 (the last time she sang the role).
Del Monaco tends to sing everything forte, but the voice itself is in spendid shape. The local girl, Oralia Dominguez, in her role debut, and Giuseppe Taddei both display voices in full bloom and are thoroughly involved in the drama. All in all it isn’t the most subtle of performances you will hear but it is full of thrills and undenyably exciting and I can only imagine what it would have been like in the audience.
Back in March, when I reviewed this alongside the live Barbirolli from Covent Garden, the studio recording, Karajan’s second recording of the opera and the latest one from Pappano, I ultimately came down in favour if the 1955 Callas studio recording, and, though in somewhat leaner voice, there are still moments I prefer the greater subtlety she brings to her performance there. However, by 1955 Aida was no longer in her repertoire. This one gives us a better idea of how thrilling her Aida must have been in the theatre. A character who can sometimes seem no more than a cypher, the archetype of the woman torn between love and duty, becomes a real, passionate flesh and blood woman. Even taking into consideration the distinctly lo-fi sound, this would be my favourite performance of the opera.