This recording of Verdi's Aïda makes a good impression even before the first bit of information meets the laser. It's a non-live recording of an opera, in a time when those were thought to belong to the past. It features the hottest Italian opera conductor, Antonio Pappano, whose fame has apparently reached such levels that he needs only his surname in the cover graphics, along with veteran Italian instrumental forces who know the music almost by heart. The vocal stars, however, are from outside Italy, and part of the appeal of Anja Harteros and Jonas Kaufmann is that when you do get into the music is that they seem to approach the score fresh; although both are certainly competent in Italian music, neither has had much contact with Aïda in the past. The recorded sound is captured in the new Renzo Piano-designed Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome, and it turns out to be splendid, right from the orchestral prologue that is tantalizingly shaped by Pappano in a way that wouldn't be as vivid in a live recording. The bottom line is that the recording justifies the high expectations. You can believe Harteros in her varied moods of nostalgia for home, grief, and undying love, and Kaufmann's set pieces are, as usual, marvelous exemplars of pure technique. The supporting cast, notably Ekaterina Semenchuk as Amneris and bass Erwin Schrott as the slightly over-the-edge High Priest Ramfis, is uniformly strong. This is state-of-the-art Verdi, musically, sonically, and vocally, and for a lot of listeners it's going to be the new Aïda they've been waiting for.