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Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901) Don Carlo (1867/1884)
Filippo, Il Re di Spagna – Michele Pertusi (bass)
Don Carlo, infante di Spagna – José Bros (tenor)
Rodrigo, Marchese di Posa – Vladimir Stoyanov (baritone)
Il Grande Inquisitore – Ievgen Orlov (bass)
Un frate – Simon Lim (bass)
Elisabetta di Valois – Serena Farnocchia (soprano)
La principessa Eboli – Marianne Cornetti (mezzo-soprano)
Tebaldo, paggio di Elisabetta – Lavinia Bini (soprano)
Il Conte di Lerma / L’Araldo reale – Gregory Bonfatti (tenor)
Una voce dal cielo – Mariana Bucciarelli (soprano)
Coro del Teatro Regio di Parma
Filarmonica Arturo Toscanini/Daniel Oren
rec. Live, Teatro Regio di Parma, October 2016
Synopsis in Italian and English enclosed DYNAMIC CDS7776.03 [3 CDs: 172:55]
Don Carlo is one of the richest of Verdi’s scores, musically as well as dramatically and psychologically. All the central characters are believable, none is solely white or black - apart from Il Grande Inquisitore, who is a representative for the evil powers. But this also means that the work isn’t easy to bring off in the theatre or on records. A further hang-up is the choice of version. The opera is based on Friedrich Schiller’s dramatic play Don Carlos, Infant von Spanien, and it was originally a commission from the Paris Opéra. The libretto was in French and it was premiered in March 1867. The same year it was first seen in London and Bologna in an Italian version, and in 1872 a revised version was given in Naples. Later Verdi revised it again, first in 1884, the so called Milan version in four acts and again in 1886 in Modena. Through the years there have been further cuts and amendments, so theoretically producers and directors are spoilt for choices when planning a new production. The production in Parma in October 2016, which is recorded here – it also exists in a DVD version – is the four-act version from 1884.
With the excellent Filarmonica Arturo Toscanini in the pit and the just as excellent chorus of the Parma opera on stage, both under the experienced Daniel Oren, the backing is in safe hands, and with beautifully judged tempos we are in for a wholly idiomatic performance. The choral contributions are naturally utterly important in this, the grandest of Verdi’s operas – and I don’t forget Aïda, which arguably is even more spectacular, but on a more superficial level. The drama in Aïda is by and large in chamber music format. The opening of the important auto-da-fé scene is truly mighty. In the long introduction to Filippo’s great monologue with an admirable cello solo and, maybe even more telling, the prelude to the last act, with shimmering high strings leading over to Elisabetta’s aria. The recording is as good as one can expect from a live recording and stage noises are uncommonly discreet. Applause is retained, which of course is a pity, but in the main it is easy to live with the real outbursts of ovations a couple of times, are fully justified.
All the singing is not on the very highest level, but some of it is very good. The eponymous hero is sung by Catalan tenor José Bros. Ten-fifteen years ago he was one of the foremost lyric bel canto singers around: a splendid Nemorino at Covent Garden opposite Angela Gheorghiu, a stylish and elegant Elvino in La sonnambula on DVD opposite Eva Mei and a couple of other highly recommendable recording. His voice has grown in volume since then but at the same time his delivery has become coarser, and his method of pressing the voice for more heft often results in a widened vibrato. His first act aria, Io l’ho perduta, is still well-nuanced and he has some top notes with ring, but basically he seems too small for the role. His long duet scene with Elisabetta in the last act is actually the best thing he makes, after the soprano’s Ma lassù ci vedremo, where her soft singing obviously inspires Bros awaken his lyrical voice.
Bulgarian baritone Vladimir Stoyanov has also been on the international circuit for quite some time. He has a warm, nut-brown, slightly reminiscent of Ettore Bastianini. In the prison scene in the third act he sings Rodrigo’s music very convincing. Per me giunto is inward and moving and even though he elsewhere tends to over-sing, for instance in the second act trio with Don Carlo and Eboli, there are some really thrilling moments.
Bass-baritone Michele Pertusi has had a distinguished career since the mid-90s and his rendition of Filippo’s part is not only expertly vocalized but also psychologically deep-probing. His monologue at the beginning of act III is always the number one is looking forward to – one of the greatest solos in all opera – and he finds the many small nuances that create a rounded portrait of the character. When the Grande Inquisitore appears immediately afterwards, we know at once that here is no complicated personality but a downright one-track minded ruler. Ievgen Orlov may not have the thunderous voice of a Martti Talvela but it is a frightening character anyway, authoritative and bloodcurdlingly evil.
Marianne Cornetti has been one of the most reliable mezzo-sopranos in the Italian repertoire for some years. She still is a dramatic force to reckon with, expressive and potent, and she can still sing touchingly soft, but at forte and above her vibrato becomes quite disturbing. Thrilling she still is and in O don fatale she is at her best, apart from a couple of wobbly top-notes, with an intense, moving and well-sung reading.
The one who accounts for the very greatest singing is however soprano Serena Farnocchia as Elisabetta. Hers is a lirico spinto voice of tremendous beauty, with brilliant top and with lyrical capacity that allows her to sing ravishing pianissimos. Her very greatest moments are in the final act, where her aria Tu che le vanità is superb, and in the following scene with Don Carlo she is even better. Just listen to Ma lassù ci vedremo – so marvellously sung! She is far from a newcomer, having been around for more than fifteen years and appears regularly on the big stages in Europe and the US, but for some inexplicable reason she has recorded very little. Her achievement here as Elisabetta deserves to be heard.
Don Carlos, as is the French title, while it is usually known as Don Carlo in Italian, has not been as frequently recorded as a good handful of Verdi’s other operas, but in the catalogue there are some well-established sets: Solti and Giulini, Abbado and Pappano, the latter two sung in French. There are others as well and the present effort can’t quite challenge those mentioned. It is too uneven, but there are more ups than downs and in particular Serena Farnocchia’s Elisabetta should be heard.
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