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By Giuseppe Verdi

One of Verdi's finest operas, Don Carlos was first conceived as a quintessential Grand Opera for the Paris Opéra in 1867. This original work in French runs over four hours, and Verdi abridged it considerably for La Scala in 1884, removing the First Act and composing a brand new revision to the original French text. La Scala presented this version in Italian. In 1886, for a subsequent revival, Verdi retained most of his new changes but reinstated the First Act -- still in French. Unfortunately, there is no really strong recording
of Verdi's epic in its original French.

VIDEO: EMI: Luciano Pavarotti, Daniella Dessi, Laura d'Intino, Paolo Coni, Samuel Ramey, Muti conducting, La Scala, 1992; EMI 77779

AUDIO: A) MYTO: Jon Vickers, Gre Brouwenstijn, Fedora Barbieri, Tito Gobbi, Boris Christoff, Giulini conducting; the more traditional, Italian version with a few cuts beyond even Verdi's 1884 revision but with Act I restored; in a famed 1958 revival at Covent Garden, "live"; we hear a superbly inspired tenor protagonist, Vickers, surrounded by a stellar cast  under an alert, consummate maestro (granted, both Brouwenstijn and Barbieri, who are more endowed than are their counterparts in B with the needed voices -- and the apt style -- for their roles, are not heard at their best here, Barbieri routinely avoiding all excursions above the staff -- but still!); in fact, Giulini's unequalled contribution is the capstone of an extraordinary evening in the theatre where every artist is not just inspired to unusual heights of expressive revelation in a vacuum, but responds wonderfully to the charge generated by uniformly kinetic colleagues in every role; the artistic rapport here within the entire ensemble remains unmatched; this was as much a Visconti triumph as a Giulini one; it was this revival and a Met revival seven years earlier that were chiefly responsible for first alerting 20th-century audiences around the world to the extraordinary calibre of this important, unjustly neglected, Verdi work. [G.R.]

B) LYRIC DISTRIBUTION: Jose Carreras, Mirella Freni, Elena Obratzova, Piero Cappuccilli, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Claudio Abbado conducting ("live," La Scala, 1977); relatively early ground-breaking revival of the final 1886 version -- uncut (Act I included) with additional passages restored from the 1867 original version (ballet omitted) -- how wonderful to hear the reprise of Carlo's sad Act I exit at the end of the opera, as in Verdi's original quiet ending; this rounds out the opera in the same necessary way that the more familiar ending rounds out the four-act version with its thundered-out reprise of the Friar's Act II phrases; this ambitious performance still uses the traditional Italian translation, though; it also features a glittering all-star cast, all in good vocal form; caveats: though Freni is in fine vocal control (after some warming up in Act I) and thoroughly understands the Verdi style, her lovely and expressive voice, however adroitly managed, is not quite suited to Queen Elisabetta, and, even though Obratzova (Eboli) has the right kind of voice and is in representative form, the true Verdi style eludes her -- she is just too ungainly; nevertheless, Maestro Abbado has given us a finely welded reading that, for once, makes emotional and structural sense of every note in Verdi's sprawling canvas; the restoration of passage after passage only makes Verdi's imposing score that much more riveting. [G.R.]

C) MELODRAM: Franco Corelli, Raina Kabaivanska, Oralia Dominguez, Louis Quilico, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Guadagno conducting ("live," 1966); in some respects, an even more intense, heart-on-sleeve performance than A; featuring the only protagonist, Corelli, able to give Vickers in A a run for his money; colleagues are all exciting, though musically variable; don't look for scrupulous, inspired conducting from Guadagno; what this is is a corking good show a bit rough around the edges; Guadagno is just along for the ride; traditional Italian version with a few cuts, including the omission of all of Act I; recorded from audience perspective, the sound quality is strictly fair and no more; Mono. [G.R.]

D) DECCA/LONDON: Carlo Bergonzi, Renata Tebaldi, Grace Bumbry, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Solti conducting (studio recording, c.1965); this recording uses the full 1886 version, sung, though, in the usual Italian; with all the advantages of stereo hi-fi, this represents the finest interpretation of the title role ever made in the professional recording studio; Bergonzi's Don Carlo is the ideal object lesson in how to sing this part, both because of this interpretation's impeccable style and real beauty of tone and also because of this recording's superb sound quality which allows one to appreciate in depth all the rich nuances of this artist's musicianship; you will not find here quite the dramatic genius of Vickers nor the bold imagination of Corelli, but the wonderful sound quality here may make Bergonzi's scrupulous assumption more inviting than anyone's; unfortunately, none of Bergonzi's colleagues quite match him, even though Bumbry's Eboli certainly has its moments; in Fischer-Dieskau's contribution, not only do we have infelicities in style (of a kind different from Obratzova's, granted), but an instrument intrinsically unsuited to the role of Rodrigo in the bargain; Tebaldi does not probe so deeply as Brouwenstijn or Freni, and Solti's contribution is aptly described by Peter G. Davis: "clarity without grace, weight without gravity, and excitement without passion"; Stereo [G.R.]

E) ANGEL: Placido Domingo, Monserrat Caballé, Shirley Verrett, Sherrill Milnes, Ruggero Raimondi, Giulini conducting (studio recording, c.1970); a much-praised recording that has its problems; it uses the traditional Italian version with, however, Act I retained, as in Giulini's "live" performance of 1958 (i.e., the performance given the A recommendation above) but with none of the 1958 cuts, thank goodness--that's fine; but, compared with Vickers, Carreras, Corelli or Bergonzi, Domingo's interpretation of the title role is a bit detached, and though his voice, in terms of color and depth, is richer and more powerful than Carreras's and approximately on a par in terms of amplitude with Bergonzi's, it is less ample than either Vickers' or Corelli's--furthermore, Domingo simply does not have the kind of assured top, so essential in this part, that the others consistently produce--yes, Domingo may be in reasonably solid mechanical control of his high--that's different, but it does not carry that thrill of compelling emotional conviction that the other four habitually convey when they are in peak form--in fact, Domingo's merely serviceable top seems somehow emblematic of his curiously restrained approach throughout; this recording reverses the equation of the Solti: here we have a strictly functional, though disciplined and musical, protagonist surrounded by colleagues who surpass him in vocal rightness, technical ease and dramatic versatility; it is, in fact, Domingo's colleagues that make this recording worthwhile, and as for Giulini, his leadership continues to be as impressive as in A; the whole performance is finely engineered in superb stereo. [G.R.]

F) DG: Placido Domingo, Katia Ricciarelli, Lucia Valentini-Terrani, Leo Nucci, Ruggero Raimondi, Abbado conducting; stereo; Here is the only recording of Verdi's final version made for Modena (1886) -- the Modena version, the WHOLE Modena version, and nothing but the Modena version -- and in the original French; unique for all this, but the performance is singularly uninspired alongside any of the five listed above. [G.R.]

For Further Reading:

The Operas of Verdi : From Don Carlos to Falstaff (Vol. 3, Revised), by Julian Budden

Don Carlos/Don Carlo (Opera Guide, No. 46), by Giuseppe Verdi

Encounters with Verdi, by Marcello Conati, Richard Stokes, Julian Budden

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