VERDI Don Carlo (Daniel Oren)
These DVDs (available also on Blu-ray and audio-only CD) give us two comparable Verdi productions from two very different Italian festivals. Macerata stages its shows on the broad, shallow stage of the town’s open-air Sferisterio. The Verdi Festival in Parma, by contrast, has to squeeze the action (and in Don Carlo there’s no shortage of it) on to the relatively modest stage of the 1400‑seat Teatro Regio.
Both shows feature Daniel Oren as conductor, a maestro who knows how each of the scores goes but doesn’t offer much else besides. He captures little of the driving rhythmic urgency that courses through Il trovatore’s veins and misses Don Carlo’s brooding grandeur. The orchestral playing in both performances is pretty rustic (a fine cello solo for Philip’s ‘Ella gammai m’amò’ notwithstanding), and pit-stage coordination cannot always be relied upon. The singing from the chorus in Macerata can waver tuning-wise; in Parma there just doesn’t seem to be enough of them.
These are solid performances, though, and the Don Carlo in particular offers encouraging signs that the Parma festival, which seemed to be in trouble a few years ago, might be back on an even keel. Cesare Lievi’s production charts a sensible course between period costumes and minimalist (and no doubt budget-conscious) sets. But while, for example, an oversize tomb for Carlo V, adorned with a wreath the size of a tractor tyre, does what it can to look imposing, there’s no getting away from the fact that this theatre’s stage really isn’t big enough to do this grand opéra justice.
The cast is led by a bright, tireless Don Carlo from José Bros, though one wishes he would vary his volume a little more often. He sings beautifully on the few occasions when he goes below forte, such as in his final duet with Serena Farnocchia’s authentically Italianate, touching Elisabeth. Michele Pertusi’s voice lies too high for Philip but he sings with authority, and Vladimir Stoyanov is a stylish Posa. Marianne Cornetti gives us an imposing, powerfully sung Eboli.
Francisco Negrin’s Trovatore is a more abstract affair conceived for a less conventional space, but it still feels essentially traditional. There are extras aplenty (including a lightly singed young boy at Azucena’s side), a chorus in threatening face paint, imaginative lighting and even some impressive pyrotechnics – although one struggles to keep track of the details on the small screen.
The direction of the singers is pretty rudimentary but Anna Pirozzi gives us a grandly sung Leonore (a role she has tackled at Covent Garden), which is matched by Piero Pretti’s robust Manrico. Marco Caria (Conte di Luna) is, alas, no stylist, but Enkelejda Skhosa brings plenty of voice and personality to Azucena.
The sound-only versions are non-starters, I’d say; but while there are more universally recommendable versions of both operas available on film – Luc Bondy’s French Don Carlos conducted by Antonio Pappano (Warner Classics, 4/01), or Karajan’s old-fashioned but gloriously sung Vienna Trovatore, recently reissued on Arthaus, 9/17) – both these releases represent respectable achievements.