Verdi Don Carlos

An estimable live performance that does not quite match up to the best of the past

Author: 
Alan Blyth

Verdi Don Carlos

  • Don Carlos

Any chance to hear Verdi’s absorbing study of private and public passions is not be sneezed at, but this time a Naxos set, this one stemming from Royal Swedish Opera with an all-Swedish cast, hasn’t come up with a cheap version to equal let alone surpass its classier (and more expensive) rivals. The edition chosen is basically the 1886 five-act adaptation for Modena but with the costume-changing scene for Elisabetta and Eboli, the lament for Carlo and Philip after Rodrigo’s death and the mob’s following intrusion, reclaimed from Paris, 1867. Other elements, rightly cut by Verdi, remain excluded. It does seem odd nowadays on a recording for Italian, as here, to be preferred to the original French.

None of the singers is wholly inadequate to his or her task, but none, except for Peter Mattei’s beautifully and expressively sung Rodrigo, is in the front rank of Verdi singers. Hillevi Martinpelto offers an eloquent farewell (sadly foreshortened) to her lady-in waiting and has a good stab at her demanding last-act aria, but a voice of greater weight and body is really needed for Elisabeth. Similarly her Carlo, Lars Cleveman, has a pleasing tenor and the best of intentions but not always the wherewithal to carry them out. Ingrid Tobiasson gives a vivid portrait of the tormented Eboli and conveys her feelings in vital tones, but the many high Bs and B flats in the role sorely tax her.

The bass roles are occupied by two veterans. Ryhänen has the notes and vocal presence for Philip II, but is altogether too bland in characterising the tortured king. He comes to life at last when confronted by the Grand Inquisitor in the person and impressive voice of the 68-year-old Bengt Rundgren, who seems to have lost few of his imposing gifts since he sang major roles at Bayreuth a quarter of a century ago. but here as elsewhere the young Spanish conductor, Alberto Hold-Garrido, tends merely to hold the show together rather than giving it inner life and dramatic impetus. He and his variable orchestra aren’t helped by the rather distant sound balance. Nor will the frequent applause be welcome on repeated hearings.

So, unless you are really strapped for cash, I would suggest opting for the famous Giulini set, now at mid-price in EMI’s Great Recordings of the Century. You will have to go without some music, but that is not enough of a drawback in view of a performance superior in every respect. But my first choice would definitely be the full-price Pappano set, in French, and with a finecast, a superb account of this vast score.

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