One of the most acclaimed musicians of his era, Toscanini was a conductor of the "old school" - aristocratic, perfectionistic and something of an autocrat on the podium. After a brief flurry of interest in Fascism in the 1910s, he rapidly became disillusioned with the movement and indeed became a personal rival of Mussolini, repeatedly antagonising him through acts of artistic defiance such as refusals to open concerts with the Fascist anthem Giovinezza.
Eventually he fled Italy for the United States, becoming the first conductor of the newly-formed NBC Symphony Orchestra, with whom he pioneered radio broadcasts and recordings that made him a household name in America until his retirement at the age of 87. He gave the premiere performances of several major works, including Barber's Adagio for Strings and the American premiere of Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony.
This 2006 production from the Zurich Opera is a traditional one by Nicolas Joël in veteran Ezio Frigerio's wonderfully evocative, highly coloured sets. Then Adám Fischer in the pit leads a remarkably strong yet subtle account of the score, which – when played and sung like this – is once more revealed as one of Verdi's greatest masterpieces. Four of the principals easily surpass their DVD rivals. Stemme offers a deeply considered, expressive and superbly sung Aida, one for whom the work's vocal perils do not seem to exist. Add to that acting that goes to the heart of the matter, and one is left breathless in admiration after so many sopranos not truly fitted to the part. Licitra has done nothing better than his Radames here. At last fulfilling his potential, he sings the role with an open-hearted sincerity and a heroic voice up to the part's exigent demands.
This magnificent recording of Aida, made in Rome, rises to all the musical and dramatic challenges presented by Verdi’s richly-coloured Egyptian epic. Antonio Pappano, once again proving his mastery of Italian opera, moves between sumptuous grandeur and touching intimacy. The responses of the Orchestra e Coro dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia are both immediate and vibrant, while the singers – Anja Harteros, Jonas Kaufmann, Ekaterina Semenchuk, Ludovic Tézier and Erwin Schrott – do justice to every facet of their roles.