Verdi’s aida E

Pappano ‘in his element’ recording Aida with the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia at the Sala Santa Cecilia in Rome

‘A miracle!’ Aida returns to the studio

Hugo Shirley travels to Rome to witness a rare event in recent musical history – a no-expense-spared recording of a grand opera with a starry cast – and talks to its conductor, Sir Antonio Pappano for example, many of them, such as its recent Les martyrs, recorded under studio conditions. Baroque operas are also well represented. This is mainly thanks to independent labels, but 2015 has also already seen lavish new sets of works by Leonardo Vinci and Agostino Steffani from Decca and Erato respectively.

xactly 10 years ago, Gramophone welcomed EMI’s recording of Tristan und Isolde from the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House and Antonio Pappano. But in a double review in the September 2005 issue, both critics mentioned that the set, starring Nina Stemme and Plácido Domingo, was likely to be the final large-scale studio recording of an opera of its type. Happily it’s a prediction that hasn’t proved quite right, even if it was the last to take place at Abbey Road. Opera recordings have continued to be produced, even if many reflect two main shifts: towards the taping of live concerts and the concentration on the periphery of the repertoire. Opera Rara offers a steady flow of unusual works,

On EMI, though, Pappano went on after Tristan to record several subsequent operas. One of them – Madama Butterfly in 2009 – featured the conductor’s other orchestra, that of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome, and the tenor Jonas Kaufmann. Still, there’s something particularly heartening about the latest project, now on Warner Classics, to unite conductor and orchestra with the world’s most sought-after tenor: a full-scale, no-expense-spared studio recording of one of the grandest operas of all, Verdi’s Aida, made in the luxurious environment of the Sala Santa Cecilia, the lavish 2800-seat hall in mellow curved wood and plush red at the heart of Renzo Piano’s 2002 Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome.

4 The best music of 2015