Verdi Don Carlos
I reviewed this performance with some enthusiasm when it appeared on VHS back in March 1997. I then complained that, in that form, the top and bottom of the picture was cut off because of the wide-screen format. Watching it flow on a new, wide-screen television I found it makes a far more arresting effect. The action seems to be happening in the room with you. That is not only due to the format but also to director Luc Bondy’s wish to portray the personal relationships, the characters’ trials and tribulations in the most intimate manner. In contrast to most stagings of Verdi’s epic, notably the famous Visconti production at Covent Garden (where this staging superseded it, not without regret among the many aficionados of the older ones), this one turns all but the outdoor scenes, mainly the Inquisition, into almost a domestic drama.
For better or worse, the principals seem very modern. With the exception of Thomas Hampson as Rodrigue, sporting a huge Charles II-like wig, the singers appear with their own hair or lack of it. Jose van Dam, a magnificent and moving Philippe II, does sometimes remind one of an out-of-sorts bank manager rather than a ruler of an empire, with his troubled wife, in the attractive person and voice of Mattila, as workaday Queen. Charisma is excluded by this interpretation. The relationship of Carlos and Rodrigue, obviously a very close one, is a touchy-feely affair, one that Alagna, in a sincere, beautifully sung assumption, and a palpitating Thomas Hampson, execute with flair. The Grand Inquisitor, in Halvarson’s superbly toad-like form stalks his prey, the King, with relentless menace, a truly formidable fellow. As ever, Meier is not content with conventional acting: her Eboli is a scheming, seductive presence, consoling us with the intensity of her singing for a voice a shade light for her part. Indeed, it struck me on this re-appraisal of the musical side of the performance, recorded live at the Chatelet in Paris, that all the voices are a degree lighter than we are used to in the piece, but that suits the French text, giving an ease and fluidity to the vocal line that is its own justification.
Even more impressive on re-hearing is Pappano’s conducting, alive to every nuance of the long work yet aware of its overall structure. In the new medium, as I have suggested, the clarity and immediacy of the picture is arresting. The sound, though a shade soft in focus, is a great improvement on its ‘ordinary’ video counterpart. Owners of DVD players who want to add this unforgettable work to their collection need not hesitate – provided they can see it on a wide screen.'