17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
- 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.
Filippo Secondo (aka AB)
- Published on Amazon.com
OK, I did know before buying that this is a 'modernized' staging: the stills shown on the DVD cover say it all (confusingly, these shots were taken from performances different from the ones recorded here). Well, I kept my fingers crossed, hoping that any weird theatrical practices would be compensated for with (at least) a near-satisfactory vocal performance. I would have, then, forgiven such scenes as the paparazzi/gala auto-da-fe (on which more below), and the Queen's ballet 'La Peregrina' played by the soloists themselves and renamed 'Eboli's Dream', a sitcom which looks more like 'The Pregnant Eboli's Kitchen/Chicken/Pizza'. I hope they got extra financial credit for this acrobatic episode, their body language being more expressive than and superior to their vocal abilities (we don't get to know if Eboli aborts after executing her role as ballerina). Mercifully, the dream disposes of the small low doors where the whole singing cast - lucky conductor and orchestra! - have to bend for entrances and exits (how many backache casualties by the end of the production run?).
Apart from Miles and Tamar (even this Philippe - the English subtitles insist that he is 'Philipp' - and Elisabeth are slightly past their best), the singers ('all long-term stalwarts of the Vienna Opera', reads the booklet) are either in poor voice or (worse) gifted with raw vocal cords, with average-to-poor intonation (you don't need to clean your ears or put on your headphones to be aware of it): eg Posa's 'Votre epee' in the auto-da-fe becomes 'Votre [?]', a word which I can't decipher; in her confrontation with Philippe, Elisabeth sings 'Ces portrait' instead of 'Ce portrait'; Eboli shifts briefly to Italian, singing 'Pieta, perdon' in place of 'Pitie, pardon' at the beginning of her confession scene with Elisabeth; Carlos, who also forgets - in the Act 1 finale - that he's in a French opera, uniquely combines the original text ('Helas! Helas!') with its Italian counterpart ('Ahime! Ahime!'), singing 'Ahimas! Helas!' (to the singers' embarrassment, the French subtitles give away the garbled phrases correctly).
Vargas is a mediocre Carlos and a second-class actor: his self-conscious gestures and facial expressions (especially smiles) are laughable, no match either for the ROH's Lima or the Chatelet's Alagna (both of whom are regal, vocally and physically). (I can't believe that this is the same Vargas who sings a brilliant Almaviva on the Naxos 'Barbiere', or who gives magnificent portrayals of Verdian heroes on his RCA recital disc.)
Skovhus being vocally below standard, is this elderly bespectacled/pony-tailed Posa meant to be a dumb mummy's boy, or what? In his transformation as a delivery boy, the back of his T-shirt reads 'Posa's Pizza': what country, friends, is this? (Oh, I forgot that - in accordance with the holy 'Regietheater' protocol - the setting is meant to be symbolic, universal, timeless, and so on.)
The sexy Michael (though too self-conscious in her dream) is a better actress than Vargas, but her blowzy decibels are unbearable for 4 hours (pity, because her singing is accurate, the flamenco ornamentations in the Veil Song rivalling those of the best mezzos, past and present): this Eboli bleeds with a knife (Philippe's razor/Carlos' broken picture frame?) in 'O don fatal' (terribly sung) more or less in the manner of the Chatelet production, where Meier's face bleeds scratching it with her fingernails, but Eboli's murder in the 'Emeute' here is not plagiarized from any previous production on DVD (how on earth does she lose the eye which she covers with a patch in the insurrection scene when it's fully open during the aria, and why does Elisabeth in the garden scene - lucky guess: there are no gardens, but there is a plant! - refer to her mask as 'black' when it's golden?).
Though Yang's Grand Inquisitor - who is supposed to evoke only God knows which real-life/fictional character - is vocally imposing, the role's dramatic presence is spoiled by distractingly grotesque mime with Philippe and Eboli (yes, the latter is present throughout the scene, where she is shown spending the night with the King: a reversed plagiarism from Chatelet, where Elisabeth sleeps in the royal bed).
The Lerme of Benedikt Kobel is the wobbliest ever (on the point of exploding even before he opens his mouth).
You may enjoy this DVD and even shower it with superlatives (awesome, breathtaking, a must-see, etc) if you're new to the opera (ie if it's your first DON CARLOS in any format), but those who have an intimate knowledge of this work and know it by heart - not least because they own 30-40 recordings on CD and DVD and are (therefore) able to tell for sure which ones are extraordinary, good, and bad - will need to close both eyes and ears.
That this is the only version of the music composed for the 1867 premiere currently available on DVD is lamentable after such a long wait. In all fairness, the chorus and orchestra are superb; with the exception of the first 10 minutes (a stupendously - though minimally - staged woodcutters scene), the production as a whole is a huge letdown, the obtrusive stage business unnecessarily trivializing the tragic events - eg while the first part of Posa's farewell may make you shed a tear or two (his body language being rightly minimal), the second part (soon after he is shot) will anticlimactically reduce you to laughter, because of the ridiculous accompanying directorial gestures, as when Posa extends his fist towards Carlos as a sign of friendship (performed a couple of times earlier, this gesture replaces the more emotional handshake), and also when Posa dies falling on Carlos, rather than the other way round.
Nonetheless, make sure you don't miss the boos during the auto-da-fe, just before the Royal Herald begins: the cast (now - according to the director's sublime wishes - in the auditorium) react with mixed emotions, the really angry Miles interrupting a contemporary president's commonplace gesture, which he awkwardly repeats after the booing stops, looking sillier the second time around. I have the impression that the booing was planned by the production team on the night this scene was filmed, so as to acknowledge the director's genius, since the booers were ultimately silenced by the applauders (I bet the inspired director insisted on retaining it on the DVD for this reason): if (according to the booklet) 'Huge applause was heaped on the cast of the premiere', why would anyone boo (though, of course, it isn't unlikely) long after the production had opened, and on that particular night? (The booing doesn't exist on the Orfeo audio version, which was recorded in October 2004, this video in October and November.)
A full cipher of a production worth renting for the unmissable booing event (spontaneous or planned), hence the star above.