seems to be a relatively new company, specializing in releasing
live recordings (often broadcasts) that are out of copyright.
They operate much along the lines of Walhall with a minimum
of documentation; in this case a cast-list and a track-list
and that’s it. On the front cover it says “Newly remastered
using state-of-the-art restoration techniques” but no mentioning
of the restorer. Whoever he is, he has done a good job. Presumably
the original tapes were in good shape, for the orchestra sounds
well with fine reproduction of the brass in the prelude. The
chorus is also mostly well caught. This unfortunately reveals
that the male voices are not very distinguished - the chorus
of monks right after the prelude is nothing to write home about.
When they are joined by the female voices, notably in the auto-da-fé
scene, we get a more homogeneous choral sound, but of course
this impressive music is not easily reproduced through a fifty-year-old
live mono recording. When it comes to the solo singing the sound
varies a lot, depending on how and where the singers are positioned
on the Met’s large stage. The trio in act two (CD1 track 23),
to mention just one example, is oddly balanced: Eboli is very
close to the microphone and Rodrigo seemingly very far back.
this is the four act version, listeners used to the five act
original will miss the whole first act, bar the tenor aria which
is inserted as Carlo’s entrance in what here is the first act.
There are also some cuts within numbers. Eboli’s Song of the
Veil, Nei giardin del bello (CD1 track 8) is shorn of its second stanza and there
are others but as a whole this set gives a fairly good representation
of this great work. With these cuts plus Kurt Adler’s generally
brisk tempi the opera has been shoehorned into just two discs.
compared this with my reference recording, Giulini’s EMI version
from 1970, now in the Great Recordings of the Century series.
The Giulini with more measured tempi offers almost a full hour
of extra playing time, half of which is of course the missing
first act. Generally speaking Giulini digs deeper into this
wonderful score and his soloists are also preferable in most
cases. Add to this a quality of sound that is still excellent
and the EMI set can be confidently recommended to anyone wanting
a library version. It is a set one can return to over and over
again and each time find new insights.
for the set under scrutiny most opera lovers will probably be
interested in it for the sake of the soloists, several of whom
are not especially well-represented on commercial recordings.
The cast list is indeed impressive with four home-grown American
singers in leading parts (all right, Blanche Thebom has Swedish
ancestry). We also hear possibly the best Italian baritone vocally
during the whole post-war era. Ettore Bastianini, aged 40 or
thereabouts. In the early sixties he went on to record for DG
the role of Rodrigo in the first commercial recording of the
five-act-version. I have for more than forty years admired his
singing there although he sings even better in this early recording.
With hindsight I suspect that the hardening of his sound in
the 1960s might have been due to the throat cancer that was
to end his life a few years later. Here though he is at his
very best and produces effortless singing with his nut-brown,
steady, evenly-produced and classy voice. He is fine in the
first scene in the famous duet with Carlo, where one gets the
feeling that he and Tucker are trying to out-sing each other;
two glorious voices rarely singing below forte. He is even better,
and more nuanced, further on in his Carlo, ch’è sol il nostro
amore (CD1 track 11) and also the long scene with Filippo
(CD1 tracks 16-20). Best of all is the prison scene (CD2 tracks
14-17) where he reaches Everest and pours out a stream of warm
golden tone, Per me giunto; unquestionably the highpoint
of this recording.
Tucker shows off his brilliant top notes to good effect and
he is an eager, intense Carlo. He is also lyrical and elegant
(CD1 track 22) reminding the listener that he actually started
as a cantor and early in his career sang a great deal of Mozart.
Jerome Hines, who sang at the Met for 35 consecutive seasons
in more than 800 performances, has a warm, dark voice, readily
expressing authority but also delivering a deeply felt and involved
Ella giammai m’amò (CD2 track 5), maybe overdoing the
end of the aria but generally it is a fine performance. The
following scene with L’Inquisitore also shows him in a good
light, while Nicola Moscona, another Met stalwart is rather
hollow-sounding and shaky (well, he is supposed to be ninety!),
but he characterizes well.
Thebom, after a rather throaty start, grows through the performance,
but there is a certain squalliness about her singing that bereaves
her portrait of much of the sexual allure that Eboli should
radiate. Her final appearance with the aria O don fatale
(CD2 track 13) redeems much of what she did earlier and some
suspect intonation apart it is intense and probably also visually
exciting, judging from the applause.
is also a suitable description of Eleanor Steber’s contribution
to this performance. Elisabetta is of course all through the
opera - at least in the four-act version - a deeply unhappy
woman and her fluttery tone underlines this. Unfortunately this
flutter becomes rather wearing on the ears and there is very
little beauty in her singing. Her big last act aria is well
interpreted, apart from the end which is rather over the top,
but it isn’t a lovely performance vocally speaking. Luckily
towards the end of the duet with Carlo, at Ma lassù ci vedremo
(CD2 track 23) she finally finds a more pure, silvery tone,
which is quite attractive.
can’t think that this will ever be someone’s first choice of
Don Carlo, but admirers of Ettore Bastianini should definitely
search it out and there is enough of good singing elsewhere
too to make it a fairly attractive proposition.