Verdi Don Carlos
This is a four-act Don Carlos in English: no Fontainebleau therefore and, on records and on its own terms, no competition (as opposed to the five-act, English-language version from Opera Rara). The absence of the five-act opera’s first scene involves loss, but structurally (aesthetically, one would once have said) there is a satisfaction in the balance of first and last scenes both taking place at the Monastery introduced by the solemnity of brass. As for Andrew Porter’s fine translation, in two scenes it has special value for English-speakers, both dialogues that need to be closely followed: the King, first with Posa in Act 1, then with the Inquisitor in Act 3.
Opera North have much of which they can be justly proud. Under Richard Farnes, the orchestral playing will stand comparison with the acknowledged best. The strings achieve admirable precision and beauty of tone, and there is an outstanding cellist playing the meditative solo in the Prelude to Act 3. The style also impresses as bearing the imprint of a genuine Verdi conductor, with playing where, at times, one feels as though the instruments are contributing their own apt dialogue to the drama.
Of the soloists we have to remember how much is asked of them; and, indeed, much is given. As so often happens, it is the baritone whose singing falls most gratefully on the ear. William Dazeley’s voice is not remarkable for either power or Italianate richness, but it is an uncommonly pleasing one nevertheless and thoroughly well produced. Julian Gavin’s tenor rings out powerfully in the upper register but rather loses colour elsewhere: he sings the role, however, with feeling and is able to communicate the sense of pain. With Alastair Miles we have an artist whose years of good service have begun to take their toll in a loosening of the vibrations, yet his performance leaves a deep impression and some of the phrases in his great solo are beautifully taken. In the scene with the Inquisitor, he and John Tomlinson have the right kind of voice-relationship, but with Tomlinson the ageing is more troublesome, too many of his notes lacking focus and control.
Neither of the principal women is well cast. Jane Dutton as the Princess of Eboli has the power and the range but her tone is uneven and unsympathetic in character. Janice Watson is sympathetic and within the natural scope of her voice she sings her aria in the last act extremely well, but the part calls for a different kind of voice, one with a greater breadth of tone or a warmer quality in moments of emotional release.
Don Carlos (or Carlo), which used to be a rarity, has now one of the most richly endowed discographies of all Verdi’s works. The full range of recordings, Italian and French, was charted in a Gramophone Collection in 1/07. Placed in that context, this new version would not, in my own estimate, rank very high. Yet its merits are considerable, and in the one respect, that of the language, it stands apart.