Verdi Don Carlos
If you want the edition of the work revised in Italian by Verdi, first performed in 1884, this is your only choice to date on DVD – and it proves, as it did on VHS, a satisfying experience. The work in this form is certainly tauter, more direct than in the five-act French original which is so well-caught on the DVD of the Chatêlet production conducted by Antonio Pappano. Those who know Zeffirelli’s style will not be surprised by the conventionally lavish production, but there is not much wrong with that when it so effectively evokes the atmosphere of religious oppression and personal antagonisms so unerringly depicted by Verdi.
The dark-hued, threatening setting fits Muti’s energetic, rhythmically vital conception. He quickens the emotions in a peculiarly Italianate way, and throughout evinces a feeling for the tinta (colouring) of the score. His reading is in turn a good background for some thoughtful and idiomatic singing.
Pavarotti, booed for missing a high note in the Act 2 concertato on the first night, has here overcome his nerves at tackling a role for the first time and delivers Carlo’s music in a typically fervent manner, words ideally placed on the voice and his tone consistently firm and pliable. His girth makes him unconvincing as the small, lean, nervous Carlo of history, but his simple, sincere acting is its own advocate. Daniella Dessì looks the very image of the wronged, sympathetic Elisabetta and sings with feeling and good phrasing. Paolo Coni, who seems – sadly – to have disappeared from the scene, offers a concerned, upright Rodrigo, sung in warm tones but – like Dessì – his tone sometimes loses focus under pressure, suggesting that he is a shade over-parted. On the other hand, Luciana D’Intino has all the heft and steadiness for Eboli, suggesting an Italian mezzo of the old school, and she acts credibly enough.
The non-Italian principals aren’t quite as convincing. An experienced Filippo, Samuel Ramey gives a sharply etched portrayal and sings with his customary confidence, but he seldom peers beneath the surface to the King’s inner torment. Alexander Anisimov is a vocally imposing Inquisitor, but many basses with lesser resources have made the part much more frightening. The young Nuccia Focile is a suitably ethereal Voice from Heaven. Other minor roles are well cast.
Zeffirelli’s video direction is well-fashioned and the sound picture catches the aural ambience of La Scala. As a whole, this is a vivid experience.