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Support us financially by purchasing this disc from
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Don Carlos - opera in five acts (sung in French) (original Paris version, 1867)
Philip, King of Spain – José Van Dam (bass-baritone); Don Carlo, Infante of Spain – Roberto Alagna (tenor); Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa – Thomas Hampson (baritone); The Grand Inquisitor – Eric Halfvarson (bass); Elisabeth de Valois, Philip's Queen – Karita Mattila (soprano); Princess Eboli, Elisabeth's lady-in-waiting – Waltraud Meier (mezzo); Thibault, Elisabeth's page – Anat Efraty (soprano); The Count of Lerma – Scot Weir (tenor); An Old Monk – Csaba Airizer (bass); A Voice from Heaven – Donna Brown (soprano); Flemish Deputies - Laurent Austry, Paul Gay, Andrew Golder, Paul Medioni, Joel Mitchell, Guillaume Perault; Countess of Aremberg - Marie-Louise Bondy; A Lady of the Court - Armelle Berengier; A Lord of the Court - Jérôme Nicolin
Chœur du Théâtre du Châtelet; Orchestre de Paris/Antonio Pappano
rec. live, Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, March 1996
Director: Luc Bondy
Video Director: Yves André-Hubert
Region-free NTSC
Dolby Digital audio 5.0 surround; L-PCM stereo / 4:3
Subtitles: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish
Remastered in HD from the original master tape<
WARNER CLASSICS Blu-ray 2564 634780 [211:00]

In my series of reviews of the C Major series called Tutto Verdi, issued during the bicentenary anniversary year of Verdi’s birth, I repeatedly counselled that the claim of twenty-six operas in the Verdi oeuvre was erroneous. I concentrated my remarks on the two operas that were specifically renamed, making twenty-eight distinct titles. The difference between the two numbers involve re-writes of two works, I Lombardi and Stiffelio, each with significant alterations and additions fully justifying a different title.
I sometimes also pointed out that this was not the whole story. In fact, Verdi undertook a number of radical rewrites of various of his operas without re-titling. Most notably these include Macbeth, La Forza del Destino, Don Carlos and Simon Boccanegra. There were also changes to works such as Il Trovatore to include a ballet when the opera was performed in Paris. These revisions would take the number of operas in the Verdi canon towards the mid-thirties rather than twenty-six or -eight. The number, and extensive nature, of the many revisions that the composer made to Don Carlos puts the figure up towards thirty-eight and that is not counting the music that was cut from the score after the dress rehearsal and before the first night. As an appendix to this review I give more detail as to the background to the fraught genesis of Don Carlos and its subsequent revisions.
An aside: as well as being my personal Desert Island opera, Don Carlos is Verdi’s longest. Circumstances make the present version particularly memorable for me. A few months after the performance in Paris, my wife and I were camped in the Provence hills in our caravan. Passing through the small village of St. Paul-en-Forêt we noticed an advert for Don Carlos. We stopped and enquired of a man who turned out to be the mayor, in France a civic dignity of power and influence. He proudly told us that the village was taking a performance transmitted from Paris via satellite link, the venue being the village Centre Culturel. We payed our fifty Francs, around ten pounds sterling at the time, and on Friday 13 September 1996, five months after the Paris performance and before any video was available commercially, we took our seats. We took along some Belgian friends for their first operatic experience. There were no surtitles or the like and at the first intermission my friends were keen to know what was coming in the next act. In my limited French I started to give a summary. Disconcerted to notice an increasing audience, I slipped up in describing Elisabeth as La Regina rather than the French La Reine; otherwise my summaries went well and the number of listeners increased on each occasion. I was quietly proud of my contribution to the entente cordiale.
At the time of its recording, and commercial issue, this performance from the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris was not quite the the first sung in the original French. DG had made a sound recording in the early 1980s conducted by Abbado. Recorded over two years, the recording was distinctly woolly and the cast largely Italian, some of whose French betrayed their origins. The only other performance I had heard in French was a BBC broadcast in 1973 made under Verdi scholar, Julian Budden’s direction and significantly using several Francophone singers. This is now available on CD from Opera Rara. What was very evident to me in that Provençal venue was the more lyrical performance, for want of a better word, that the young Pappano drew from his singers and orchestra compared with Giulini or the earlier Santini (both EMI) or the first stereo set from La Scala featuring Christoff issued in the early 1960s (DG nla). All of these tended towards a more dramatic, even verismo interpretation. Going home to volume three of Budden’s seminal Operas of Verdi (Cassell, 1981) I was reminded of the fact that, for all the changes Verdi made to this opera, over nearly twenty years, he always did so to a French libretto, so keen was he to marry his music to the prosody of the words.
This cast, like the BBC broadcast has native French speakers in principal roles and another, the Posa of Thomas Hampson, who could well pass as such. Add the chorus and the totality acounts for the difference I detect. It all makes a difference to the patina of the sound. Of the solo singers the major revelation is Alagna in the eponymous role. It was not that many years before that he had made his mark at Covent Garden in the vocally lighter role of Roméo in Gounod’s opera. His voice had grown in power and his overall interpretation is good. Regrettably, his later forays into the heavier Verdi roles such as Manrico are less successful with vocal strain too obvious. Here his lyricism, attention to words and general phrasing is good. It is a pity that the positives are somewhat negated by his appearance as a rebel includes designer stubble. How the tall and elegant Karita Mattila fell for this scruffy youth in the Versailles forest is not obvious. Her singing is as pure as her somewhat virginal appearance and includes a particularly well shaped opening to act five. Her more general coolness and appearance could maybe explain why the widowed Phillip failed to find fulfilment in his second marriage and sought extra-curricular activity with the more temperamental Eboli. As Philip, the Belgian bass baritone José Van Dam, dressed in black, is austere of demeanour throughout. Whilst he lacks some of the lower sonority of his Italian counterparts in the role his diction and vocal expression and acting more than compensate. His opening aria to act four when, in his study, Philip laments his wife’s response to him, is wonderfully conveyed (CH.16). The lyricism of his interpretation is particularly evident in the act two, scene two interview with Posa (CHs. 7-11) where, as I have noted, this version is less dramatic than that of Verdi’s early revision translated into Italian. However, the beauty of the phrasing of Van Dam and Thomas Hampson is a delight. Hampson’s diction, phrasing and French is outstanding throughout and particularly in Posa’s death scene (CHs. 20-22). His overall acting is convincing, but what persuaded Luc Bondy to give him such ridiculous hair defeats me.
Of those with the least impressive French, Waltraud Meier as Eboli is more convincing in her act four scene after revealing her infidelity with Philip (CHs.18-19) than in the earlier Garden Scene. Overall she does convey the tempestuous nature of the role. Likewise, Eric Halfvarson is fearsome as the Grand Inquisitor, a role that must have guaranteed him a good pension over the years. As I have already indicated Pappano brings lyricism to Verdi’s creation. It is interesting to compare his Covent Garden recording of the five act Don Carlo where he seeks a more Italianate drama from the music. The chorus and orchestra of the Théâtre du Châtelet are fine.
Since this recording, there has been a video and CD recording of all the music Verdi wrote for the original production including that excised before the premiere and during the early performances. It is conducted with particular feeling and elan by Bertrand De Billy. It is derived from the soundtrack of a Peter Konwitschny production for the Vienna State Opera that caused some furore at its premiere. Although lacking Francophone singers it is worth hearing and is now available on DVD. I personally find the production gimmicks somewhat beyond acceptability.
The original and subsequent versions of Don Carlos
In 1864 when spending time revising Macbeth for the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris, Emile Perrin, director of the Paris Opéra, the Académie Impériale de Musique, approached Verdi to write once more for the theatre. With the Great Exhibition of 1867 on the horizon, and Meyerbeer dead, Perrin, realised that he would need a Grand Opera for the season that year and turned to Verdi. Despite his earlier frustrations with working for the Paris Opera, and with the interventions of a mutual friend, Verdi committed himself to write a work of four or five acts complete with ballet.
At the rehearsal of the whole opera as prepared by Verdi in February 1867 it became obvious that Don Carlos was too long to allow time for suburban Parisians to get their last trains home. The composer reluctantly removed well over twenty minutes of music excising more in the course of the first run of performances. It was in this cut five-act form that Don Carlos was premiered at the Paris Opéra on 11 March 1867. Even in this reduced form it was only modestly received. As was usual, it was quickly translated into Italian as Don Carlo. However, public response in Italy was little better than in Paris. Both the Italian public and theatre managements thought it over-long and were slow to take the work 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 equally grand, Aida in 1871, added to the difficulty of the opera’s 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, the fortunes of the opera disappointed the composer and as early as 1875 he began seriously to consider shortening the work. With other demands he did not begin determined work on this until 1882 concluding his revision as a four act entity the following year. It had to wait until 1884 for its premiere at La Scala. This new shorter four-act revision involved much re-wording to explain the sequence of events and maintain narrative and dramatic coherence. Verdi’s own revisions involved the removal of the Fontainebleau act, the ballet and the Inquisitor’s chorus in act five as well as other changes. For a revival in Naples in 1872 he had already made alterations to the duet between Philip and Posa in act two, scene two, making it considerably more dramatic, particularly the King’s concluding warnings to Posa to beware the Grand Inquisitor. 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 Modena, two years later, a five act version, in Italian and including a translation of the first act was given with, it is claimed, Verdi’s approval.
There, the complications of the versions of Don Carlos and Don Carlo might have rested and did so for nearly a century. All the excised music was thought lost until, at the Verdi Congress in Parma in 1969, when David Rosen, an American scholar, produced a previously unknown section of the Philip-Posa duet. This had been folded down in the conducting score prior to the premiere. The English musicologist Andrew Porter, acting on a hunch, visited the Paris Opéra library and asked to see the original score. He was amazed to discover that the pages of the music that Verdi omitted from the premiere, and subsequently thought to be lost, were simply stitched together. These excisions amount to about thirty minutes of music. More importantly, they give greater cohesion and explanation of the details of the complex story as the work unfolds. Porter copied out the missing parts.
Some of the items discovered by Porter were included as an appendix to the first studio recording of the French version conducted by Claudio Abbado (DG). Prior to that, and unobtainable for a long period, was the BBC broadcast of 1973 conceived and realised by Julian Budden with a largely Francophone cast. With two hundred and thirty one minutes of music it is only exceeded by the 2004 recording from Vienna of Konwitschny’s controversial production. Wonderfully conducted by Bertrand De Billy the latter is claimed as a world premiere of all the extant music Verdi wrote for the Paris premiere. It is available on CD and DVD.
Robert J Farr