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Guiseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Don Carlo.
Plácido Domingo (tenor) Don Carlos; Montserrat Caballé (soprano) Elisabetta; Shirley Verrett (mezzo) Eboli; Sherrill Milnes (baritone) Rodrigo; Ruggero Raimondi (bass) Philip II; Giovanni Foiani (bass) Grand Inquisitor; Delia Wallis (mezzo) Tebaldo; Ryland Davies (tenor) Conte di Lerma; Simon Estes (bass) Monk; John Noble (baritone) Herald; Ambrosian Opera Chorus; Ortchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/Carlo Maria Giulini.
EMI Great Recordings of the Century CMS5 67401-2 [3CD] [208'45] [ADD]

You wait for ages and then two come at once: no, not buses (that's threes), but Verdi's Don Carlos. And from the same company, too. EMI rightly have included Giulini's classic performance in their Great Recordings series, to be closely followed on Référence, by Santini's 1954 Don Carlo with men's voices to die for: Tito Gobbi as Rodrigo, Boris Christoff as King Philip (EMI CHS5 67479-2). If your budget stretches, you should ideally have both.

Giulini's Don Carlo is rightly celebrated, and despite an all-star cast it is Giulini himself who finally emerges as the hero. His grasp of the overall structure in a score which can appear to sprawl (and which has more versions than most) is without parallel.

Recorded in August 1970 by the now semi-legendary Bishop/Parker combination, the sound in this latest transfer is exemplary. It possesses a warmth that matches the generosity of the interpretation. Giulini presents the five act Italian version (the French is spelt 'Don Carlos', but pronounced the same) and so includes the (to my ears) crucial Fontainebleu first act which makes the relationship between Carlos and Elisabetta explicit. HereiIt also provides the opportunity to luxuriate in Domingo on top form against Caballé's passionate Elisabetta.

Domingo and Milnes present a very emphatic and simple Friendship Duet (Dio, che nell'alma infondere amor). Rightly so. The expressive import of this simplest of passages is only to reach full dramatic fulfilment when it reappears at the end of Act Three. There it accompanies Rodrigo, who is the one who dares to disarm Carlo. The effect is shattering.

Raimondi's Philip, of course, stands or falls on the aria at the beginning of Act Four, Ella giammai m'amò. Although he could be darker of tone at the outset, this only serves to set into relief Dormirò sol nel manto mio regal, in which Philip's burden is almost tangible. Shirley Verrett's Eboli reveals the full importance of this character. Her Nei giardin of the second act is true Verdi singing at its best. In particular, her lower registers are expressively musty and evocative, and later her Act Four O mia Regina is wonderfully tender.

Caballé is a convincingly impassioned Elisabetta throughout, most notably in Act Five. Foiani's Inquisitor, in bass duet with Philip, projects all of the ancient wisdom of this character.

The Royal Opera House Orchestra accompanies throughout with the utmost sensitivity. Giulini presents a spacious, grand Auto-da-fé and creates an ideally-hushed, touching atmosphere for the final scene.

Giulini's vision shines through the entire production. Backed by a list of talents such as this, Don Carlo becomes an unforgettable experience.


Colin Clarke



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