Verdi's Don Carlo
The Gramophone Choice
Plácido Domingo (ten) Don Carlo Montserrat Caballé (sop) Elisabetta di Valois Shirley Verrett (mez) Eboli Sherrill Milnes (bar) Rodrigo Ruggero Raimondi (bass) Filippo II Giovanni Foiani (bass) Grand Inquisitor Simon Estes (bass-bar) Monk Delia Wallis (mez) Tebaldo Ryland Davies (ten) Conte di Lerma John Noble (bar) Herald Maria-Rosa del Campo (sop) Voice from Heaven Ambrosian Opera Chorus; Royal Opera House Orchestra, Covent Garden / Carlo Maria Giulini
EMI Great Recordings of the Century 567401-2 (3h 29' · ADD · T/t). Recorded 1970. Buy from Amazon
From the day that Giulini conducted the now legendary production of Don Carlo at Covent Garden in 1958, a recording of the opera by him looked a must. In fact, it was to be 12 years before EMI took the plunge, but the set was worth waiting for: it’s the five-act version in Italian, without the cuts made at the Royal Opera, and well recorded and handsomely cast. Giulini himself had slowed down since the live performances but the blend of majesty and lyric beauty that he brings to the opera is hard to resist. The music glows warmly in his hands, as befits one of Verdi’s most human dramas.
His cast gathers together five of the leading singers of the 1970s. In particular, the trio of Caballé, Domingo and Milnes seemed to be rather predictably the names on almost every Italian opera recording at the time, but how glad we would be to have young singers like them today. Caballé, though occasionally sounding blowsy, is exquisite whenever quiet singing is called for, and Domingo is at his golden best throughout. Their murmured farewells at the monastery of San Giusto in Act 5 have never been surpassed. Verrett is a fiery Eboli (although it’s a shame Giulini did not give her more pace in ‘O don fatale’), and Milnes provides generous-hearted singing as Rodrigo. It’s good to have an Italian bass as Philip II but Raimondi lacks the black tone and fearsome presence of his notable predecessor in the role, Boris Christoff.
Lovers of the opera will want to investigate the four-act version under Santini and also the five-act version in French under Pappano, both on EMI (which more or less cornered the market for this opera). Otherwise, 30 years on, Giulini’s splendid performance is as satisfying as any, probably still the number one recommendation.
Don Carlo (1996 version)
Rolando Villazón (ten) Don Carlo Marina Poplavskaya (sop) Elisabeth de Valois Sonia Ganassi (mez) Eboli Simon Keenlyside (bar) Rodrigo Ferruccio Furlanetto (bass) Philip II Eric Halvarson (bass) Grand Inquisitor Robert Lloyd (bass) Carlos V Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera, Covent Garden / Antonio Pappano
Stage director Nicholas Hytner
Video director Robin Lough
EMI DVD 631609-9 (3h 31’ · NTSC · 16:9 · LPCM stereo and DTS 5.1 · 0 · N/s) Buy from Amazon
It was a great night at Covent Garden, though, of course, one had reservations. With the DVD they recede. For instance: Furlanetto’s Philip was over-praised, lacking the commanding resonance, too much given to explicit emotion and emphasis, sometimes unsteady. All that is still true: it just matters less in relation to the movingly convincing portrayal of the tried and tired man. At close quarters, too, the voice reveals its finer qualities, which include the deeper sonority of the true bass.
But still more forcefully the video confirms a conviction, strongly held at the time, that Villazón’s Carlos was grievously misrepresented by the press. Then (as now) his account of the solo in Act 1 is as fine an example of singing by a tenor in Verdi as we have heard in many a year: elegant in detail, movingly expressive and endowed with that special beauty of tone which was Villazón’s distinctive gift. If he was under-powered, it was only in the heated confrontations of the Auto-da-fé scene, and even at that point it does not appear to be so here. What is shown very clearly is that he sustained the demanding role without any sign of tiring, forcing or losing quality towards the end. And something similar is true of the Elisabeth, Marina Poplavskaya. Hers is, in the first place, an exceptionally lovely voice, and, though in the theatre her stage presence seemed somewhat ineffectual, the dignity and restrained feeling of her performance here are deeply impressive. For the others (Eboli, Posa and Inquisitor), impressions in the theatre and on video very largely conform. Close camerawork reveals several thoughtful points in Nicholas Hytner’s production, while the chorus and orchestra under Pappano’s well-attuned direction are consistently a credit to the house.