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Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901)
Don Carlo (1867)
Ileana Cotrubas (soprano) – Elizabetta di Valois; Patricia Parker (mezzo) – Tebaldo; Romayne Grigorova (actress) – Countess of Aremburg; Luis Lima (tenor) – Don Carlo; John Dobson (tenor) – Count Lerma; Matthem Best (bass) – A Monk; Giorgio Zancanaro (baritone) – Rodrigo; Robert Lloyd (bass) – Philip II; Bruna Baglioni (mezzo) – Princess Eboli; Alan Jones (bass) – A Royal Herald; Ian Comboy, Stephen Rhys-Williams, Henry Herford, Martin McEvoy, Julian Moyle, Brian Donlan – Flemish Deputies; Lola Biagioni (soprano) – A Voice from Heaven; Joseph Rouleau (bass) – Grand Inquisitor
The Royal Opera Chorus and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/Bernard Haitink
Design and Original Production: Luchino Visconti; Staged by Christopher Renshaw; Directed for Video by Brian Large
Filmed at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in April 1985
NVC ARTS 510110242-2 [approx. 204:00]

Seeing this production with the same cast live at Covent Garden in April 1985, but not this specific performance, I have very vivid memories of the occasion. I knew it was going to be filmed but I never saw it; Swedish Television didn’t show it. Memory can be deceptive of course, but when the DVD started I felt at once transported back to the Royal Opera House twenty years ago, although to a better seat; in 1985 I was perched in the amphitheatre. In a way the two occasions were complementary to each other, for from the amphi one has a perfect over-view of the enormous stage and Visconti’s sets really made their mark while on the TV screen they make fairly little impression and Brian Large wisely chose to bring us into the action by mostly working with close-ups. With good actors this pays dividends when the drama unfolds, for although this is "Grand Opera" it is in the main characters’ reactions and relations that the real drama takes place – just as in Aïda. Occasionally this spotlighting also has its drawbacks: the lighting, so evocative when watching from a distance, sometimes places the actors in an unfavourable light and especially Don Carlo himself in the first act seems to be suffering from an advanced stage of jaundice. To continue on a critical note the sound is no more than adequate and the auto-da-fé scene naturally is the big loser.

Bernard Haitink, who is filmed from the pit every so often, leads a well-knit performance, more forward-going than his CD recording made some ten years later, which is well sung but too laid-back. It is a long opera in predominantly dark colours, here underlined by the dark sets and costumes and often sparse lighting. Some productions are redeemed by Don Carlo in the final scene being transfigured. In the current Stockholm production, though, he kills himself and here he is dragged by Charles V, seemingly against his will, into the unknown darkness. The central themes in the drama: the complicated love relations, Philip’s despotic reign and his yielding to the altar, personified by the Grand Inquisitor, are well delineated in a performance that grows in intensity and never slackens. There is some scrappy wind playing, noticeably in the prelude to Act 5 – or is it just the recording? – but otherwise the orchestra are fully up to their usual standard, as is the chorus.

The cast could hardly be bettered and it is especially good to be able to commend a couple of singers otherwise more or less neglected by the regular record companies. First of all Luis Lima in the title role, which seems to have been written specifically for him. He is a splendid actor and his emotions are so grippingly mirrored through his facial expressions that one can’t help shedding some tears as listener and onlooker. His involvement is so deep that one sometimes fears that he won’t be able to sing. But he is and he sings like few other exponents of the role have done. On sound-only Bergonzi may beat him by a hair’s-breadth but with the acting taken into account he reigns supreme: beautiful voice, nuanced, living the part.

Bruna Baglioni, who if I remember correctly was a replacement for Tatiana Troyanos, is a magnificent Eboli, sexually alluring and singing with intensity and burnished tone, making O don fatale a highpoint of the performance.

Of the more household names Giorgio Zancanaro once again shows that during the 1980s and early 1990s he was the possibly best Verdi baritone around, challenged by Bruson, but while not having such a magnificent instrument as the latter, was far more accomplished at expressing the shifting emotions. The prison scene in Act 4 can stand with the best, not showy but honest and involved.

One would have thought that Elisabetta was too heavy a role for Ileana Cotrubas’s lyric soprano and of course one hears that she is no Tebaldi, but a slimmer voice in this part can have its own rewards and Cotrubas’s slight flutter makes her more vulnerable and so more credible than a hefty spinto voice. Her great aria in the last act is affectionately sung and she has enough power even for the climactic eruptions of emotion.

In the theatre Robert Lloyd’s tremendous authority penetrated even up in the amphitheatre and in close-up he is a formidable Philip, acting with grave dignity and horrifying wrath. He is also extremely sensitive in the more private utterances, his monologue directed upwards – to God. This is a wonderfully nuanced portrait of one of the most complex of operatic characters.

Joseph Rouleau, another singer in the main neglected by the record companies, is a threatening Grand Inquisitor, sonorous and venomous. The smaller parts are generally well taken, although Matthew Best’s characterful Monk could have been steadier.

There are several other versions of Don Carlos on DVD, which I haven’t seen, among them a production from last year with the newest tenor star Rolando Villazon and, again, Robert Lloyd as Philip, but apart from the less than excellent sound, this is a version that can be whole-heartedly recommended – and not for nostalgic reasons only.

Göran Forsling



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