Verdi: Aida (sung in German)
Hilde Zadek, soprano (Aida); Helge Roswaenge, tenor (Radamès); Josef Metternich, baritone (Amonasro); Elisabeth Höngen, mezzo-soprano (Amneris), Sigmund Roth, bass (Il Re); Helmut Fehn, bass (Ramfis); NDR Chorus and Symphony Orchestra, Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt, conductor.
Walhall WLCD 0036 (2 CDs)(M) (ADD) TT: 2:39:13


This recent issue, part of Walhall’s “Eternity Series,” features a 1951 German-language radio broadcast of Verdi’s Aida. This release is available from retail CD shops at mid-price, Berkshire Record Outlet (www.berkshirerecordoutlet.com) is currently listing this set for the unbelievable total of $7.98 (plus shipping and handling)! My advice is to stop reading this review, and order the set immediately from Berkshire. For those who need more convincing, please read on.

This is in many ways a superb account of the first of Verdi’s “late-period” operas. Pride of place among the singers goes to the Radamès of Danish tenor Helge Roswaenge. Roswaenge turned 54 during the year of this performance, and was in the fourth decade of his long and successful career. By this time Roswaenge sometimes did not possess the ease and natural vocal beauty evident in earlier performances. But on the occasion of this 1951 Aida, Roswaenge is in superb, youthful voice. The tone is gorgeous, high notes stunning in their clarion power. Particularly rewarding in this context is the fact that Roswaenge chooses to respect many of Verdi’s demands for more subtle effects. The “Celeste Aida,” gloriously sung, features a spine-tingling rendition of the ppp close, complete with a lovely diminuendo on the concluding B-flat. There is also a lot of beautiful, restrained singing in both the Nile and Tomb Scenes (although in the former, Roswaenge chooses not to observe Verdi’s dolce marking on the B-flat at the conclusion of “il ciel de’nostri amori”). Overall, this is about as fine a realization of the dramatic and lyric requirements of this most demanding role as can be found on disc. Given Roswaenge’s age and the late stage of his career, it is a miracle.

Likewise, soprano Hilde Zadek is excellent in the title role. Some might find that her silvery timbre lacks traditional Mediterranean warmth, suggesting a voice perhaps more suited to Mozart and Richard Strauss—composers Zadek performed to convincing effect. I find the timbre both lovely and appropriate for this role. The considerable challenges of Aida pose little problem for Zadek, and she sings with compelling involvement throughout. Josef Metternich, always a superb German-language interpreter of Verdi, is a first-rate Amonasro, using his powerful voice to great effect in the Nile Scene. The remainder of the cast is not quite as impressive. Elisabeth Höngen sings Amneris with compelling intensity, but with occasional moments of vocal insecurity. Basses Helmut Fehn and Sigmund Roth are both rather pedestrian as, respectively, Ramfis and the King of Egypt.

There is nothing pedestrian about contributions of Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt and the NDR Symphony Orchestra. The conductor’s pacing of this opera seems to me just about ideal—there is always a sense of forward movement, but without the kind of breathless rush found in other interpretations. And Schmidt-Isserstedt secures marvelous playing from the orchestra, featuring both admirable precision and radiant tone. Fortunately, this memorable interpretation is preserved in sound that rivals studio recordings of the period. All in all, this Aida is a winner. And if you can obtain it at Berkshire’s budget price, it is an absolute steal.


K.M.(July 2004)