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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Don Carlo - Opera in four acts (1884 version) [217:00]
Don Carlo – Ramón Vargas (tenor); Elisabeth of Valois – Svetlana Kasyan (soprano); Philip II – Ildar Abdrazakov (bass); Rodrigo – Ludovic Tézier (baritone); Princess Eboli – Daniela Barcellona (mezzo); Grand Inquisitor – Marco Spotti (bass); Monk - Roberto Tagliavini (bass); Tebaldo – Sonia Ciani (soprano); Voice from heaven – Erika Grimaldi (soprano)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Regio, Turin/Gianandrea Noseda
Hugo de Ana (director, set and costume designer)
rec. Teatro Regio, Turin, 19 April 2013
Audio – LPCM 2.0, dts digital surround;
NTSC. DVD all regions; 16:9 picture format
Subtitles: English, French, German, Japanese, Korean
OPUS ARTE OA1128D DVD [217:00]

Always with this opera it is necessary to start with the edition used. Here it is the Italian version first performed in 1884, long after the original French version of 1867 or even the revised version of 1872. It lacks the original first act set in Fontainebleau but still lasts well over three hours. It is seen here in costumes that handsomely suggest the historical period in which the opera is set (around 1560) and in sets that evoke, somewhat less convincingly, the same period.

All should be well for a serious reading of an opera which deals with serious matters of religion, statecraft and personal relations. Unfortunately it would appear that Hugo de Ana’s concern is more with generalised appearance than with the detailed drama. A highlight of many performances is the first scene of Act 3, in which Philip laments his inability to secure the love of his wife, Elisabeth, and is then confronted by the demands of the Grand Inquisitor to stick rigidly to the commands of the church to punish heresy, in particular that of Rodrigo. Here it is certainly set in what seems to be a fine representation of the King’s private chamber, but with the characters bathed in bright light and lacking that sense of claustrophobia and tension that the scene should have. Even with both basses singing with great conviction this is simply not the climax of the opera that it can and should be. Even worse is the end of the next scene, where after the assassination of Rodrigo the mob attempt to secure the release of Don Carlo from prison but are dissuaded by the appearance of the Grand Inquisitor. Here the entry of the mob is barely visible and they are partly concealed by soldiers when the Grand Inquisitor appears — for some reason at a higher level and apparently invisible to the mob. If you did not know the opera what is happening at this point would be incomprehensible.

It is perhaps more understandable that the final scene is incomprehensible. What is expected to happen is that the King seeks the re-arrest of Don Carlo but instead he, Don Carlo, is led into the tomb of the Emperor Charles V by a monk — who may or may not be the Emperor or his ghost. Again however the soldiers, whose feeble efforts to arrest Don Carlo have to be seen to be believed, hide what is happening from the audience, the lighting changes and the Emperor’s statue seems to come to life. The significance of all of this remains unclear to the viewer and despite the realistic costumes and sets the dramatic point is wholly missed.

It is hard for the viewer to ignore such an inept staging, but fortunately there is sufficient that is right with the musical performance — enough to make the attempt worthwhile. Above all the work is paced and phrased with great confidence by Gianandrea Noseda, and played with both panache and subtlety. The male principals make a good impression, In particular both Ludovic Tézier and Ildar Abdrazakov have a real feeling for the Verdian line, even if neither is as yet a wholly convincing vocal actor. The singing of Ramón Vargas is perhaps not as distinguished but he is never less than adequate. The various duets between these singers are particular highlights. The two principal ladies are less satisfactory, especially Svetlana Kasyan who gives a generalised and approximate performance. On the evidence of this performance none of the main singers could be described as natural actors, but that may well be essentially the fault of the producer.

Given its status as one of the composer’s greatest works together with the formidable musical and dramatic demands it puts upon all of the large cast involved, it is no surprise that this performance could only be welcomed with serious reservations. Musically it is generally satisfactory, and in some respects more than that, but dramatically it wholly fails to meet the challenges this wonderful opera presents.

John Sheppard






 



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