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- Published on Amazon.com
This performance, taped for TV in 1967, has many of the most famous singers in the German orbit of the time, mostly in prime form, in roles that suit them, a great conductor in his prime, and is a well thought out production.
Don Carlos is given in German, in the four act version with the usual cuts of that era, and some extra cuts (the royal procession in the first scene is gone, the middle of the garden scene is gone, cuts are made in all the ensembles in the auto da fe scene, there is a snip -- not the biggest I've heard -- in the final Carlos/Elisabetta duet -- and finally the very end is rewritten by unknown hands -- the Grand Inquisitor grasps Carlos, Elisabetta faints (so no Friar, identification of the Friar as Charles V, and no final B flat.)
However, the 'cabinet' scene, act three scene one, in the four act version, one of the greatest Verdi stretches is more complete than it usually was in those days, even though the orchestral introduction is abridged. The entire Elisabetta/Filippo confrontation is included.
Sawallisch leads this scene as though he is on fire; it is thrilling but well controlled and powerfully built. His work in the opera as a whole is taut and intense, though he accompanies sensitively when need be. The orchestra sounds good but the choral scenes are slightly muddy in sound perhaps not so important as the big choruses are heavily cut.
James King, Pilar Lorengar, the late Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Martti Talvela as the Inquisitor and two famous Wagnerians, Josef Greindl as the King and the once world famous Gunter Treptow in the very small part of the Count de Lerma are here. Patricia Johnson and Lisa Otto, two much appreciated members of the Berlin ensemble, are respectively Princess Eboli and the 'Celestial Voice'.
King and Lorengar sound splendid, though they are slightly bland, and one is aware that "Tu che le vanita' is a big sing for her. However one magnificent phrase follows another from both, and he is very expressive when not singing (like many tenors!)
Rodrigo was a role closely associated with Fischer-Dieskau. He sings it beautifully, with a trill (!), excellent spin and good legato. He makes big choices as an actor in a style that is emphatic and doesn't always seem spontaneous -- but in his difficult death arias, marvelously done, Rodrigo's love for Carlos and the cause they share shines in his eyes and I found the result very moving.
Greindl was famous in the USA mainly through records, though he was a star in Germany and a regular at Bayreuth. He has a dry, distinctive tone, sometimes wobbles and doesn't always sing in tune. But he gives a mesmerizing performance as the tormented king, violent and vulnerable. It's rare to see a singer use silence as he does -- in the great scene that ends act one, between him and Rodrigo, there is a moment where he stares into Fischer-Dieskau's eyes, then slowly circles him, trying to understand this mysterious man who wants nothing for himself but demands peace and justice for occupied Flanders. In the scene with the Inquisitor he makes the King's ruthless cruelty obvious, but when he crumbles before the vicious and powerful Churchman the result is devastating, and his ferocious attack on his wife, who he suspects of adultery with his son, is really dangerous. It's a remarkable impersonation, which, in a visual medium, transcends some ugly and/or approximate singing.
Talvela in his prime is a stunning Inquisitor, chilling and ferocious with a huge sounding, black bass voice and no trouble with the role's tricky range. Johnson, is an excellent Eboli, more at ease than many with the florid 'veil song' and passionate and abandoned in 'O Don Fatale', a killer aria she sings very well.
The TV production uses close cameras -- they never pull back from the stage. The result is a bit of claustrophobia, some too close scrutiny of singers, and a diminishing of what appears to be a highly detailed, grand production by the famous Gustav Rudolf Sellner.
It's hard to know why these choices were made; the Japanese productions of mostly Italian companies in the '50's are better judged. A number of the singers seem self conscious at the close ups, though a performer like Greindl benefits from the scrutiny. There are some momentary blips in the tape.
Sound is close but very good.
This is an 'out of the main stream' performance, very much of its time in its cuts, and somewhat oddly judged TV production, less slick and manipulated than we would see today. But it is thrilling, involving and cumulatively powerful and moving.