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Giuseppe VERDI (1813 - 1901)
Don Carlo (1884)
Ferruccio Furlanetto (bass) Philip II
Jose Carreras (tenor) Don Carlo
Piero Cappuccilli (baritone) Rodrigo
Matti Salminen (bass) The Grand Inquisitor
Franco De Grandis (bass) A Monk
Fiamma Izzo D’Amico (soprano) Elizabeth of Valois
Agnes Baltsa (mezzo) The Princess Eboli
Antonelli Bandelli (mezzo) A Voice from on High
Horst Nitsche (bass) The Count of Lerma
Volker Horn (tenor) A Royal Herald
Natale de Carolis (bass baritone) A Flemish Deputy
Noel Ramirez (tenor) A Flemish Deputy
Petteri Salomaa (bass) A Flemish Deputy
Roberto Servile (bass) A Flemish Deputy
Goran Simic (bass) A Flemish Deputy
Alfred Sramek (baritone) A Flemish Deputy
Choirs of Bulgarian National Opera, Sofia, Salzburg Concert Choir and Vienna State Opera Chorus
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan.
Recorded live at the Salzburg Easter Festival, 1986.
DVD. (PCM Stereo, Dolby Digital Stereo).
SONY SVD 48312 [179’46”]

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Karajan has performed this score many times, and ignoring this issue, recorded it twice, once for EMI in 1978, and the other for DG in 1986. In both examples, Karajan opted for the four Act Italian language version. His competition includes Haitink and Muti. Verdi also composed a five Act version and this too has had a number of recordings. The four act version tends to be dramatically tauter and this early Verdi opera is greatly improved by the shorter time span. Verdi also produced a version in French for Paris; this also is available in a number of performances.

Those aware of Karajan productions of operas will know what to expect – sumptuous sets, very good, rather than famous voices and superbly executed by the orchestra, in this case the Berlin Philharmonic. This is what we get here. There is no evidence of the current fad of having the opera in modern or maybe even futuristic costumes and with ridiculous sets. These will usually be totally inappropriate to the action being performed by the long-suffering singers and conductor. Here, we have the opera in the correct time frame, in believable costumes within appropriate sets. All of this is very welcome and a feature, common to most, if not all of Karajan’s opera performances on DVD or Video.

The singers are all in reasonably hardy vocal condition with the principals being especially fine. Given the date of the performance, I approached this issue with some caution, as Carreras had his vocal problems about this time, and I was not looking forward to hearing him croak through the score. I needn’t have been concerned as he gives a technically secure and vocally strong performance. Agnes Baltsa, also seems to give of her best under Karajan and here she is particularly fine. 

Audience noise is minimised, so much so that you would hardly realize that it was live apart from breaks between acts, and a few orchestral interludes where Karajan figures prominently. The video direction, under the control of Karajan does not spend a lot of time on himself, unlike his orchestral concerts, and generally the approach is totally in keeping with the drama.

Are there any weak points in this issue – yes, one, but this is specific to those listeners who like to hear every last inflection of each singer, and blow what is going on in the orchestra pit. Karajan has often had this criticism laid at his feet and so it is here. Occasionally the orchestral balance is such that the voices are overwhelmed. However, I am one of those who like to hear what Verdi wrote for performers other than the singers, and so I do not find this feature off-putting. The instances of singers being swamped by the luscious tone of the Berlin Philharmonic are relatively rare and quite tolerable when they do occur.

There is also an amusing demonstration of ‘paddy’ from the conductor at the beginning of track 27, Act 3 Scene 2, the beginning of Rodrigo’s death scene, where the strings are obviously playing a little louder than Karajan thinks they should, and are quietened very effectively by the conductor. Remember that this performance was made when relations between the conductor and the Berlin Philharmonic were somewhat strained ... and it shows.

The DVD comes with multi-lingual sub-titles, a detailed black and white synopsis, notes and performance details, again in English, German and French.

Recommended without reservation.

John Phillips


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