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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Don Carlo - Opera in Four Acts, sung in Italian (1884)
Philip, King of Spain - Cesare Siepi (bass); Don Carlo, Infante of Spain - Angelo Lo Farese (ten); Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa - Ettore Bastianini (bar); The Grand Inquisitor - Giulio Neri (bass); Elisabeth de Valois, Philip's Queen - Anita Cerquetti (sop); Princess Eboli, Elisabeth's lady-in-waiting - Fedora Barbieri (mezzo); Tebaldo, Elisabeth's page - Liliana Poli (sop); The Count of Lerma, A Royal Herald - Enzo Guagni (ten); An Old Monk - Paolo Washington (bass); A Voice from Heaven - Rena Gary Falachi (sop)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino/Antonino Votto
rec. live, Teatro Communale, Florence, 16 June 1956
Appendix: Ettore Bastianini as Rodrigo in Don Carlo from the Met production, rec. 5 March 1955 with Richard Tucker as Carlo and Jerome Hines as Philip/Kurt Adler [32.45]
ANDROMEDA ANDRCD5064 [3CDs: 70.44 + 63.13 + 69.36]

The original five-act form of Don Carlos, premiered at the Paris Opťra on 11 March 1867, was only modestly received. The premiere of the Italian translation as Don Carlo was given at Bologna in September 1867 and then made its way to Rome and along the remainder of the Italian peninsula. It fared little better. Both the Italian public and theatre managements found it over-long and they were slow to take it to their hearts. It was not long before the act three ballet and then the Fontainebleau act were dropped altogether. The arrival in Italy of the shorter and grander Aida in 1871 added to the difficulty of the operaís length. After a failure in Naples in the same year Verdi made his first alterations to the score for a revival under his own supervision. Still its fortunes disappointed the composer and as early as 1875 he began seriously to consider shortening the work himself. With competing demands on his time he did not begin serious work on this until 1882 concluding his revision as a four act opera the following year. Its premiere had to wait until 1884. The new shorter four-act revision involved much rewording to explain the sequence of events and maintain narrative coherence. Verdiís own reworking also involved the removal of the Fontainebleau act, the ballet and the Inquisitorsí chorus in act five as well as other detailed changes. The premiere of the new four act Don Carlo, which has become known as the 1884 version, was a great success at La Scala and featured the tenor Tamagno who created Otello three years later.
At the time of this recording in 1956 it was common practice to perform the 1884 four-act version. This situation began to change after the Covent Garden performances under Giulini in 1958 (see review) with a tendency to include the original Act 1 music. Performance practice now often goes further with the inclusion of music that Verdi reluctantly cut before the Paris premiere when it became obvious that the length of what he had written would cause Parisians to miss the last trains home if given in full!
This issue of a live performance of the 1884 version from Florence in 1956 comes just as a Naxos remastering of the first studio recording of the work in 1954 has appeared ((8.111132-34) and which must be seen as a competitor. Whilst the virtues of a live performance are often found in the creative tension or frisson of the drama, the rather flaccid conducting of Antonino Votto mitigates such benefits here. There are frequent breaks for applause, often before the end of any orchestral postlude, and the sound is rather muted with scrawny strings and both the voices and orchestra being set too far distant and lacking immediacy.
But all is not bad news with two excellent performances not found elsewhere on disc in the Philip of Cesare Siepi (b.1923) and the Elisabeth of Anita Cerquetti, a considerable soprano who is poorly represented on disc. Born in 1931 she debuted as Aida in 1951 and quickly established a formidable reputation in the lyrico spinto repertoire of Amelia (Ballo in Maschera), Abigaille (Nabucco) and Norma. She appeared at La Scala and in the USA, but with Tebaldi signed for Decca, Callas for EMI and Milanov for RCA she didnít get the studio exposure her gifts deserved. After an operation in 1958 her prowess declined swiftly. This performance of Elisabeth indicates a singer of considerable vocal prowess and capacity for characterisation. Her Tu che le vanita (CD 3 tr. 5) illustrates those skills very well indeed. Siepi was more fortunate than his colleague in respect of studio recordings although records of his singing of Verdiís great bass arias are thin on the ground. His Ella giammai míamo (CD 2 tr. 5) really sounds like the prayer of a broken-hearted man.
Of the other soloists Barbieri as Eboli, just as on the 1958 Giulini recording, is stretched by the garden scene aria, finding O don fatale (CD 2 tr. 9) more to her liking. The Carlo of Angelo La Forese has little virtue whilst Ettore Bastianini as Rodrigo is variable. The two fail to start the famous friendship duet together. The appendices of Bastianini as Rodrigo in excerpts from performances at the Met in 1956 show him in more disciplined and better vocal form (CD 3 trs. 9-11). These tracks are also better recorded with a more detailed and forward sound. Bastianiniís Rodrigo is also to be heard on DGís 1961 stereo studio recording from La Scala; it also features Christoff as Philip (not currently available).
The leaflet is of the sparsest giving only a track-listing and cast details. In that respect the low cost has to be a factor. An earlier Andromeda label live recording of Anita Cerquetti as Matilde in Rossiniís Guglielmo Tell has appendices of the soprano in Verdi arias from Nabucco, Les VÍpres, Forza and Aida (ANDRCD 5045). Perhaps the company will favour her with a disc collection of excerpts and arias.
Robert J Farr

Verdi conspectus


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