Giuseppe VERDI (1813–1901)
Don Carlos (1867) (4-act version, sung in German)
Don Carlos – James King (tenor)
Elisabeth – Pilar Lorengar (soprano)
Philip II – Josef Greindl (bass)
Pose – Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone)
Eboli – Patricia Johnson (mezzo)
Grand Inquisitor – Martti Talvela (bass)
Friar – Ivan Sardi (bass)
Chorus and Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin/Wolfgang Sawallisch
rec. live, Deutsche Oper Berlin, January 1965
Gustav Rudolf Sellner (stage director)
Region Code: 0; Sound Format: PCM Mono
ARTHAUS 101621 [155:00]

If you are looking for a first choice Don Carlo on DVD then this is emphatically not it. In fact, it’s problematic from almost every angle. It’s a 1965 performance from the new Deutsche Oper so it’s in black and white - though the picture is pretty sharp - and the sound is in mono. The thing that will put most people off, though, is that it’s sung in German. Admittedly, this gets around the problem of whether to sing it in French or in Italian, but it brings no gains to anyone who is not a native German speaker. Realistically this will confine it to the “specialist” corner. Furthermore, it’s the four-act version, which I for one think is always an opportunity wasted when it comes to this work. Without the Fontainebleau Act the opera feels as though it has had a limb lopped off. For me this rules it out of the ball park straight away, though I’m prepared to admit that this is predominantly a personal preference.
The performance itself isn’t at all bad, as it happens. It enshrines Sellner’s handsome production which is all geometric lines and austere settings with sumptuously observed costumes. The film direction is very unexciting, often relying on only one camera angle which zooms in or out depending on how personal the level of the action. Language apart, the singing is actually rather good from most people. James King is an ardent and virile Carlos, almost too much so, rendering heroic the rather weedy character that Verdi created. The finest figure on stage is Fischer-Dieskau’s Posa, caught in his operatic prime in 1965. He sings with heroic warmth and tender affection, providing an exciting foil in his duet with Philip and attaining something close to transfiguration in the death scene. Pilar Lorengar sings with beauty and purity. Her big final act aria is surprisingly powerful, but the role of Elisabeth is too big for her on the whole. Patricia Johnson is a compelling if one-sided Eboli, and Talvela’s Grand Inquisitor is cut out of cardboard. Greindl sounds very uncomfortable in his role, too often creating a sound that is actively ugly. He overuses the dramatic pause on a number of occasions.
Sawallisch’s conducting is solid and safe, but there are numerous, infuriating cuts which will cause great annoyance to anyone who knows the score. It particularly ruins the ending by eradicating the part of the mysterious friar. What’s more, there is an infinitesimal but profoundly irritating time-lag between what you see and what you hear. Not everyone will notice it, but once you do you’ll never be able to ignore it. No: this is not one I’ll be returning to. Top choice for the Italian version is still, for me, Levine with a star-studded cast from the Met on Deutsche Grammophon, while Pappano’s French version on Warner delivers an even more compelling dramatic experience. This Arthaus release is of historical interest only.
Simon Thompson

If you are looking for a first choice Don Carlo on DVD then this is emphatically not it.