For a long time La Traviata was my favourite Verdi opera. After hearing and seeing Don Carlo many times over the past year, I think Don Carlo has replaced Traviata as my favourite of Verdi's operas. The opera can be seen as problematic as the ending is inconclusive perhaps, but hearing the magnificent music and considering how complex and compelling the characters and story are I am past caring.
This Theatre Antique D'Orange production from 1984 is very good, I have more of a fondness for the 1984(Met), 1980 and 1996 productions, but this is one of the better Carlos I've seen. Visually it looks perfectly decent. The sets and costumes fit very well with the opera's tone while not being too gloomy. The sound gives the music its power and resonance, if occasionally fuzzy, the picture quality is acceptable on the most part and the camera work is skillful.
Verdi's score is one of his best and one of his most complex and perhaps most difficult to conduct besides Otello. I especially love Dio Che Nell'Alma Infondere, Ella Giammai M'ammo, the Grand Inquisitor scene and Tu Che Le Vanita. Thomas Fulton provides an authoritative and spacious(when it needs to be) reading, the chorus numbers have scope, style and tension and while the horns are a tad flat at the beginning of Tu Che Le Vanita the orchestra play with power and pathos. Principal singing is superb.
Jaume Aragall is very impressive as Don Carlo, I know from his Caveradossi opposite Eva Marton that he is a good singer, and he sings with fine beauty and evenness of tone and clear diction. His acting is not too bad either if not quite becoming the character like Domingo did(that said he reacts better than Domingo did in the 1978 La Scala production to Posa's death) though his scenes with Caballe have poignancy, and his friendship duet Dio Che Nell'Alma Infondere with Renato Bruson's Posa is wonderfully blended.
Bruson, one of the best baritones of the 1980s and a fine singing-actor particularly as Nabucco, is superb, one of my favourites in the mind alongside Milnes, Bastianini and Gobbi(to me no-one sings Posa's death scene like Gobbi). His voice is rich and velvety and his acting from noble, to loyal, to idealistic, to strong-willed is outstanding, and what can I say about his incredibly moving O Carlo Ascolta? Montserrat Caballe was one of my main reasons for seeing the production, she jumped from being somebody I appreciated highly to one of my favourites since seeing her Norma ten years previous to this. I don't think this is her at her best, and she has sung Elisabetta better than here primarily in the 1972 Met broadcast where she's unforgettable, due to some flatness and the odd strident chest-voice note. However she is suitably moving and dutiful, her musicianship is among the best of any soprano or even anybody in the role alongside Freni and her pianissimos positively float.
I still consider Grace Bumbry, who I like very much especially in this role and Carmen, one of the better Ebolis I've seen or heard, and I did love Meier and Troyanos on stage and Verrett on record. She is appropriately fiery, vindictive yet sad, complete with a powerful O Don Fatale and a stylish Veil Song. I love about her her seductive Italian diction, her fierce chest notes and her very rich voice. What I don't quite like so much about her is her tendency to sing sharp in some of her dramatic passages.
Unforgettable is Simon Estes as King Phillip. Fiesco, Banco, Sparafucile, Padre Guardiano are great bass roles, but I don't consider either of those quite as interesting as Phillip. Phillip is scary, powerful yet also intelligent, heavily-burdened and conflicted. Estes is no stranger to Don Carlo, to my belief he sang the Friar on the Giulini recording and very well might I add; this is a very different role and can be in danger to resorting to nailing one side of the character but not so much the other.
Estes while not quite embodying the role in the way Ghiaurov, Siepi and especially Christoff did, nails both sides, he is scary but also moving, as well as possessing one of the richest voices of anybody in the role. Ella Giammai M'ammo is very nuanced, and the big duet between him and Bruson gives meaning to the word intense. There is also Luigi Roni who is intimidating in the smaller but relevant and omni-present role of the Grand Inquisitor. He is not quite as chilling as Talvela and Hines, but the voice is dark and the acting is strong.
The clash-of-the-titans moment that is the Grand Inquisitor scene is superbly sung and played, and is chillingly effective if lacking the earth-shattering feel of Ghiaurov & Talvela, Christoff & Neri, Siepi & Hines and Ghiaurov & Furlanetto. Overall, a very good production if not quite definitive. 8/10 Bethany Cox
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