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Good production with Villazon as Don Carlo. I was afraid for him taking on this role but was not disappointed. What he lacks in voice he makes up for with his acting skills which is important if you watch it on film. He has a more than equal partner with Marina Poplavskaya as Elizabeth whose in tune voice is strong and a pleasure to listen to. The sound quality is very good with the Royal Opera House orchestra in splendid form.
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35 of 39 people found the following review helpful
Monumental but flawed masterpieceDec 18 2010
Dr. John W. Rippon
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I have in front of me DVDs of four productions of Don Carlo and/or Don Carlos. Such a plethera of riches! This is a new opera for me as in the 40s, 50s, & 60s it was rarely done. Thus it has been most exciting over the last twenty to thirty five years to experience the rise in performances and the critical esteem of this longest of Verdi's ouvre. Having witnessed this deveopment and experiencing several productions at the Met and Lyric Chicago, I have grown more appreciative of this magnificent work and the various problems that are inherent in producing it. It has become my favorite Verdi and yet this monumental masterpiece is flawed and unwieldy because of its size and breadth. Schiller's poem drama of great length was itself a tirade against tyranny both secular and religeous. His was a Protestant point of view so the Catholic Church comes off not well but it was the Hapsburg tyranny that is the real villain in the play and in the opera. The opera has some of Verdi's most evocative music and the singers have to be the best and able to cope with the very strenuous vocal line. Just thinking of Furlanetto' Fillipo singing "Ella giammai m'amo" brings tears to my eyes. I've heard a line of great basses do this from Christoff and Ghiaurov to Van Dam and Miles but to my ears Furlanetto is Phillip II. The same is true with all the major roles. But lets get back to this DVD. The Hytner production at the ROH and subsequently seen broadcast from the Met live series is the one on this DVD. Some of the cast is different and I think the better for it. Overall I was most impressed by the Hytner concept. I must say that I was so involved in the intensity of the drama on stage that I didn't notice much of the scenery. It was fine by me and not obtrusive. I think it imperative to have all the Fountainbleau act be complete to fully understand why Elizabeth has to say yes to the marriage to Phillip even though she is in love with his son. The peasants plead with her. She has already encountered them and be friended them and it they not the noble people in this production that cause her to say "si". The Don Carlo of Villazon is adequate but no match to the Met broadcast of Roberto Alagna. Alagna appears on the du Chatelet version with the Posa of Hampson, a great pairing. Alagna is the best Don Carlo of the present time. Marina Poplavskaya is the Elizabeth and the more often I hear her the better I think she is. She was on the Met broadcast and is of great depth but reserved and very royal. The best of the day. (Her "Tu che le vanita" cannot match the Freni of 1982, however). The Eboli (whatever became of the eyepatch?) of Gnassi is adquate but on the Met broadcast Anna Smirnova did a better job particularly "Oh Don fatale". Again no match for Grace Bumbry of 1982 Met production under Levine. Simon Keenlyside is one of the great finds in opera in recent times. His Hamlet made me respect the opera. Now his Posa is the standard to match. He is trained as a lieder singer and it shows in the care of his enuciation and the care of each syllable. I still think the Hampson Posa of the du Chatalet production was more involved and more beautiful of voice. But Simon's star is still rising. All in all the Hytner production on this disc, even with it minor flaws is a great source of pleasure and appriciation of this great masterpiece. (But I wish it were the French version for it is a French Grand Opera)
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
superbJan. 30 2011
David Bresch Md
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First of all, Don Carlo is my favorite opera. Second of all, I am the worst of vocal curmudgeons, i.e. I love and long for Corelli, Bergonzi, blah blah blah. But as entertainment intended for the big screen television, this is superb. The image quality is first rate; the singing is mostly first rate. Villazon may have cracked live, but on video he is excellent. Poplavskaya is exquisite. Furlanetto is excellent. Keelyside is excellent. Ganassi falls a little short vocally. The production is gorgeous. I cannot recommend this too highly, so long as you are getting it for the totality that is an opera DVD, and not just as another recording.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
TristezzaJuly 22 2011
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Sometimes we leave wondering why Verdi's opera was not titled PHILIPPE II, ROI D'ESPAGNE. On this occasion, however, we might feel it should have been called ELISABETH DE VALOIS, for the Queen is the most interesting and fully realized figure in stage director Nicholas Hytner's production (shared by the Met, Norwegian National Opera, and Royal Opera House Covent Garden; EMI's DVD is a composite of three summer 2008 ROH performances). Hytner and soprano Marina Poplavskaya have brought much care and imagination to the heroine's gradual progression from coltish, mischievous young girl to fatalistic, disillusioned monarch, and their work is persuasive. They make Elisabetta's every look, gesture, and attitude seem integral and supported by text and music, whether the choice is traditional or not (e.g. Elisabetta's helpless look back at Carlo as she is carried away in the celebratory procession at the close of Act I; the flash of anger aimed Filippo's way during the farewell to the banished Countess, a solo thankfully given its full two-verse due here; the sprinklings of pride and haughtiness amidst the protestations of innocence in Act IV Scene 1). Poplavskaya, as always, is a fascinating face to watch, and she looks show-stoppingly glamorous in a series of period gowns by Tony Award winner Bob Crowley. Even the changes in her coiffure from scene to scene tell us something of the character's inner life.
If the voice that comes out when this sensitive actress opens her mouth is not the sort we think of as that belonging to a "Verdi soprano" in the classic line, it is an interesting one in its own right, and it is the one belonging to the woman attempting the part. With adjustment for vocal category, the same could be said of other cast members. Both Simon Keenlyside (Rodrigo) and Sonia Ganassi (Eboli) must work hard for the high notes to which their music frequently guides them; each sounds most comfortable in the midrange. Keenlyside's portrayal seems unfinished. It is difficult to know whether stray tics and mannerisms we see, little smirks and squints, a curious rigidity of posture at baseline, are the character's or his own. At the Met, with a different eponymous tenor (Roberto Alagna) opposite Keenlyside, Hytner seemed to me to have encouraged a subtext to the Carlo/Rodrigo relationship that probably had not occurred to Schiller, Verdi, or the librettists, but is increasingly fashionable in modern stagings. For example, Keenlyside obviously was playing barely concealed delight when Alagna's Carlo began to confide his "sinful love," and when the object of the sinful love was revealed to be Carlo's stepmother and not Rodrigo himself, the baritone played disappointment along with the usual shock and revulsion. This is less obvious on the ROH DVD. Ganassi is a considerable improvement over the unfocused, pitch-indeterminate Anna Smirnova, who replaced her for the 2010-11 Met performances, but Ganassi is another in a long line of mezzo-sopranos who lack the flexibility for the Veil Song. Her native credentials serve her well in terms of both style and delivery of text, but her deportment works against the concept of a glamorous seductress of the royal court; she is less than an ideal foil for Poplavskaya's elegant Queen.
Ferruccio Furlanetto has previously appeared on video as both the Grand Inquisitor (the 1983 Met/DG) and Filippo (the 1986 Karajan performance of the four-act abridgement, on Sony). Here, all that mars a powerful portrayal of the King is a tendency to depart from the sung line by shouting, modifying pitches, and cheating note values. I prefer to believe these are Furlanetto's crafty ways of working around narrowing resources, because if they are expressive choices, they stand out starkly against the greater portion of his contemplative work. Eric Halfvarson is also an old hand at the Grand Inquisitor (over a decade earlier, he appeared in the French-language Châtelet performance with the same conductor, also on DVD). At this point, so entrenched is the practice of casting basses who have the remnants of a voice as the Inquisitor, I no longer go in expecting to hear the musical line honestly, securely sung. This seems to have devolved into a character part, where stage presence, skill at declamation, and the ability to look and sound convincing as a 90-year-old relic are prized over absolute musical values. Within those strictures, Halfvarson does accomplished work. Robert Lloyd, having progressed in previous years through Filippo and the Inquisitor, completes his trifecta of this opera's bass roles by appearing as the Monk, and he is effective in the brief role.
The major liability, sadly, is Rolando Villazón as Don Carlo himself. This ROH run occurred between his first and second withdrawals from the stage, before his vocal cord surgery, but no knowledge at all of his medical biography is required to hear that he was in serious trouble and would have been wiser to cancel. When the music lies low and the specified dynamic is undemanding, there are reminders of the fine instrument with which he first appeared on the international circuit; but the voice is dry and lacking in polish, core, and stability, and the resulting performance consistently strained. With three dates from which to compile, the makers of the DVD have kept out major calamities, but the tenor constantly sounds on the verge of cracking, and any listener who knows where the music of this long and difficult part is leading, what hurdles lie ahead, is likely to be kept on the edge of his/her seat in the wrong way. It is unfortunate that Jonas Kaufmann's assumption of the role in the ROH's subsequent revival was not chosen for preservation instead. Villazón's fans are better off with the earlier DVD of Willy Decker's Amsterdam DON CARLO (four acts, on Opus Arte). Here, he hobbles through with a likable personality and not much more.
Antonio Pappano's conducting has matured since the previous Kultur DVD of an eccentric pick-a-mix edition (frequently misadvertised as "the original French DON CARLOS"). The ROH Orchestra plays very well for him, and they are well recorded -- the high-quality audio and video are major pluses. Hytner's physical production has been controversial for its hard-edged, none-too-lavish scenic design (e.g. the bright-red "Lego wall" before which Eboli entertains the ladies of the court) and for the addition of an actor delivering spoken dialogue as a fanatical priest in the auto-da-fé, covering Verdi's cornet solo (ceremonial music frequently cut altogether, it is worth noting). But the director is alert to character possibilities, most successfully in the handling of the Queen but also in the central confrontation between Rodrigo and Filippo, the motivations, conflicts, and agendas of which emerge with force and precision (Keenlyside and Furlanetto are at their best in that duet too, and everyone benefits from Pappano's clarification of the musical development). Hytner also attempts with some success to unify this sprawling work by isolating Carlo at scene endings, "orphaning" him on the stage by lowering a wall behind him that hides everything and everyone else from view.
My first choice DON CARLO/S DVD at the time of this writing (from a field encompassing both languages and several versions of the score) remains the first video of the opera released in any format, the Met 1983. This offers a generous performing edition (everything the ROH 2008 has, plus the rarely performed opening scene for Elisabetta and her war-deprived people), impressive orchestral playing under James Levine, John Dexter's evocative traditional production, and a cast including several great 20th-century singers in roles with which they were closely identified. Even if no one was having the best day of his or her life, they come out well ahead of most of the competition. The new ROH, more clearly a product of our present age in its state-of-the-art technical credits and its director's attention to matters of acting, is a respectable contender for the "place" position.
24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Decent recording - terrible sets and costumesFeb. 15 2006
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Lloyd and Villazon are the winners here. Lloyd occasionally sounded a little distant, particularly at the beginning of the big aria 'Ella giammai m'amo'', but it seemed to me that he was placed to far back in the stage and would have sounded better a little closer up. Otherwise, he was a delight. His acting was wonderful.
Villazon was almost perfect. I enjoyed his acting, perhaps even along with the stage direction. He protrayed Don Carlo as a much weaker individual than the hero is generally protrayed and really, that seems to be the nature of the original real personality of Don Carlo. I found his acting realistic and very involved and his singing both beautiful and impassioned.
Urmana was very good as Eboli, the one thing missing being the frightening chest voice you often hear in this role. She has a solid chest voice, just not as exciting as one could wish for. However, at the end of 'O Don Fatale', her high notes were so big and free, it was quite thrilling. You could tell the audience felt the same way, so it made up for any lack in the lower range. Also she seemed very committed to the role from a dramatic standpoint.
Dwayne Croft - very pleasant singing and decent acting. 'Nuff said there.
The Grand Inquisitor - quite acceptable.
Amanda Roocroft - the worst cast of the principles. She sounded terribly pushed at the top. However 'Tu che le vanita' came off quite nicely. Her acting was very good.
The sets: Fake marble mausoleum-like. Very nice if it were for one scene or so, like maybe as the two church scenes. But the same backdrop is used for every scene, making no sense whatsoever.
The costumes: The worst - all in a puritanical dark grey or light grey. These are Spanish nobles and they are Catholic. I felt like I was watching a story about Quakers. Although they did take the felty-marbly-grey material and sew them into something like sixteenth-century fashion. So the felty material did not hang appropriately and everyone had a huge rear end with Don Carlo appearing to wear a diaper. Also, Amanda Roocroft, who is a young-looking, slim woman, looked fat (big felty butt) and old (dark and ugly makeup covering her pretty face).
28 of 34 people found the following review helpful
Close Your Eyes To Enjoy This!Oct. 22 2005
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The singing and conducting of this performance are of generally fine quality, but there are also the hard to ignore, mercilessly ugly sets and costumes that seriously interfere with a full enjoyment of the production. Never have I seen such monochromatic, frankly unimaginative, dull and repetitive colors for costumes along with merely cheap flats here masquerading as intimidating marble walls. If the designer's intention was to reproduce the famous if morbid hall of caskets of that time, he might have noticed the lurid colors of the original and spared us these cheap-looking, boringly gray, junior high school stage equivalents.
The stage director of this production was similarly uninspired, apparently instructing the marvelous tenor Rolando Villazon to picture himself at the center of some sort of James Dean fantasy, replete with neurotic tics, head holding, and a recurrent tendency to fall to ground in fits of overacting. The singers and conductor deserved better in a DVD version. This production is best enjoyed, I'd argue, by pretending it's a radio broadcast, and thus turning away from the screen and listening to the singers and conducting only. What is presented to the eyes is just another instance of Eurotrash masquerading as quality.