73 of 78 people found the following review helpful
on October 20, 2003
At first, this entire production of Verdi's masterpiece may seem a little odd: it's sung in French (not the usual Italian), it's totally uncut, and the scenery, costumes and stage directions are a little bizarre. Yet, it all comes together and not only does it work, but it is utterly amazing and is now THE recording of choice for this masterpiece.
What works here is that the nearly four hour opera is in the left in the hands of a great conductor (the terrific Antonio Pappano) and six terrific singer-actors who actually look the parts. As good as Domingo and Freni sound in the 1983 Met recording, they don't look like young lovers.
Here, we have Roberto Alagna and Karita Mattila as Carlos and Elisabet, respectively. Both look the parts, act the parts and, more importantly feel the parts. One feels the complete range of emotions these two go through. And, most importantly, their voices ring out gloriously, start to finish.
Waltraud Meier takes a little time to warm up (her Veil Song is mediocre), but once she gets going, she is terrific. Her "Don Fatal" is a showstopper here.
Thomas Hampson is a bit of a ham, as usual but his Rodrigue is intense and well sung, particularly his death scene.
The real standout here, though, is Jose Van Dam, as Phillipe. Vocally, he is more of a baritone than a bass and may not have quite the booming voice of a Boris Christoff or Samuel Ramay. But his voice is smooth, luxurious and boy can he act!
As opposed to playing the king as the usual one-dimensional villain, Van Dam portrays the part as that of a tormented, neurotic, aging man, who is slowly losing control of his empire, his family and his life. His Act IV aria, followed by his fiery confrontation with The Grand Inquisitor (the excellent Eric Halvarson)are true highlights, as is a deeply emotional duet with Carlos after the death of Rodrigue which is, sadly, almost always cut from the opera.
Once again, the bare, minimalist sets may startle some viewers at first, but, in the end, it makes sense. Don Carlos, like most Verdi operas, is a story of basic human emotions and relationships set in a dangerous time. There are moments here when one forgets that they are watching an opera, which is usually chock-full of mediocre actors employing constant stock gestures. The whole affair transcends the stage and takes on a cinematic feel. Never before have these basic human emotions of Verdi's masterpiece been played out so beautifully as they are here.
60 of 64 people found the following review helpful
on October 6, 2005
I cannot put into words how marvelous it is to have what is in my opinion the supreme version of Verdi's masterpiece Don Carlo. Not even the word supreme does justice to this DVD. But before I go into the glorious details about this version, let me first address the problems with the existing ones. We have The Met's Don Carlo, Zeffirelli's at La Scala, Karajan's, and finally Pappano's at the Chatelet in Paris. The Met's version does have many merits, but Domingo's voice is unsuitably strained, Freni is not the best actress, they are just too old to convince me that they are young lovers. Louis Quilico looks as though he's about to pop out of his costume, and the sets and costumes have a certain low budget look. Grace Bumbry is really the only saving grace for this performance, and even at that, she could have been much more committed dramatically. Franco Zeffirelli's version for La Scala boasts sumptuous costumes and sets that unfortunately dwarf the principle singers who fail miserably in the drama department, especially Pavarotti who just looks ridiculous. Karajan's performance is sonically resplendent, but once again the sets and costumes look cheap (except for Eboli's) and the performance omits the essential Fontainbleau scene as did the Zeffirelli version. Once again the only real star of this show is Baltsa's fire breathing Eboli, now that's what I call a visceral singing actress. Lastly, the Chatelet version is very skimpy on the necessary visual aspects of the piece, and Alagna as Carlo is a terribly one-dimensional actor. Fortunately the rest of the cast is first rate in the highest sense of the word. How happy I was when this DVD version by Italian cinematic master Luchino Visconti (who mentored Zeffirelli) was released. First of all the costuming and sets are sumptuous without swallowing up the singers. Visconti was a notorious perfectionist in the recreation of historical periods of high culture right down to the manner in which a lady wore her hat and carried her fan. As far as I am concerned Luis Lima ought to be giving Master Classes to Domingo on how this role should be sung and interpreted. I have never seen a Don Carlo that brought me to tears and allowed me to experience the same whirlwind of emotions in a 3 1/2 hour time span. Cotrubas sings beatifully with aching limpid tone. Although her voice does not possess the heft normally associated with the role of Elisabetta, her voice convinces you that you are not listening to an older woman, but an innocent teenage bride about to marry a man old enough to be her grandfather. Baglioni's Eboli is a revelation, bitchy, aristocratic, and vindictive. Her voice is that of a very high mezzo in fact. Lloyd as Philip II is earth shatteringly potent as are the remainder of the cast. My final praise must go to the absolutely gorgeous stentorian singing of Zancanaro as Roderigo. He will remain my benchmark for all other interpreters of this role. Bernard Haitink conducts brilliantly taking his time to revel in the luscious melodies of the score. When you have exceptionally gifted singing actors who are opulently costumed and look every bit the part that they are portraying so much so that you begin to see them as the literal figures from the history pages, there simply is no other that can compare. Make this THE Don Carlo to own. It ranks with Caballe's Norma, Norman's Oedipus Rex, Mitterand's Butterfly, Ewing's Salome, Pendatchanska's Roberto Devereaux, Zeffirelli's Tosca and Gardiner's Les Troyens as opera desert island DVD must haves!!!!!!!!!!!BUY IT! END OF STORY!!!!!!
55 of 60 people found the following review helpful
Pappano led an achingly beautiful performance with excellent work from the
orchestra and chorus. I find this to be one of Verdi's most unusual
scores - at times the music is so far different than nearly anything else he
wrote; simultaneously sounding traditional yet remarkably modern. Pappano
brought out all of these elements and his pacing was beautiful, never once
feeling either dragged out or rushed.
I've had ups and downs in my listening experiences with Roberto Alagna, but
here, vocally and dramatically he perfectly captured every nuance, every
strength and every heartbreaking weakness of this character reminding me
throughout of Hamlet. He was in astonishingly beautiful voice, his tone
ringing and with a remarkable sheen. His ability to shade the voice in a
variety colors and dynamics made this an uniquely individual portrayal.
The production is quite simple and effective, placing the emphasis on the
story telling and the music (in my opinion, that's as it should be).
I'm not certain how much rehearsal went into this production by Luc Bondy,
but there was not a false moment throughout this opera's considerable
length. Every detail, every movement flows with a rare and natural ease.
In Gilles Aillaud's sets, Moidele Bickel's costumes and Vincio Cheli's
beautiful lighting, every frame looks like a Murillo or El Greco masterpiece
come to life. Two particularly arresting images stand out in the St. Just
scene; the first, just before the the entrance of Philip and Elisabeth -
Carlos accepts Posa's request to return with him to Flanders, as Carlos
kneels, Posa rests his head Carlos's shoulder. The second such moment
follows the King and Queen's procession; Carlos extends his right arm out
towards the now offstage couple as Posa grabs his other arm preventing his
friend from following; creating a canvas of tortured angles: all arms,
necks, heads, legs, backs, walls and shadows - all transformed into a tragic
study of pain and rejected comfort.
The Fontainebleau scene is remarkable. In this barren forest of white trees
Carlos and Elisabeth in their deep crimson costumes become as a single heart
beating in a forest of death. Karita Mattila brings a certain dramatic
quality that I've not encountered before in this role - at first coltish,
almost tom-boyish, when Carlos lights the fire in the woods. Then, as he
mentions that she will marry the son of Philip, she becomes girlish,
nervous. In just these few moments she's already established a bewitching
character. In the manner of a true princess, this Elisabeth appears to be
slightly vague about herself, but it is clear she is smitten and flirts with
Carlos. Her outward strength, however, is just that - a facade - for too
soon it becomes obvious that this is a girl raised at court who knows full
well that she is but a pawn and will play the part she's given. At the
horrible news that she is to marry Philip instead of Carlos , they are both
crushed as the chorus, in ghostly white, enters singing her praises. As
they lift her into the air and place her on a white horse to be led away,
she knows she is not only leaving behind home but any dream of happiness.
All turn their backs to Carlos who alone falls onto a rock, destroyed
"Destiny has shattered my dreams." Having seen this scene so beautifully
staged, I simply can't imagine its being left out of any production again.
Throughout this production the electricity between all of the characters is
stunning, and the physicality of the scene between Carlos and Elisabeth
outside of the convent takes on a desperate violent quality that is, to say
the least, startling.
As Rodrigue, Thomas Hampson gives what has to be one of his best
performances. Combining humility, loyalty, compassion, pride and a sense of
justice, his Posa is remarkably complex, and by far one of the most
interesting good guys in all of Verdi. The voice is never big, but rich,
well controlled and his sense of phrasing and attention to detail nothing
short of remarkable. He also has a wicked good trill. At times, especially
in his big scene with Philip, Hampson's voice seems to take on a tenorial
quality - a remarkably lyrical Rodrigue, but with a sure sense of strength
And, ah that Philip. Mr. Van Dam is a marvel; firm of tone, every word
distinct and filled with meaning. The role, while at times a little low
lying for him, fits like a glove. I have always want to hate Philip, but in
this production he seems more pathetic, more a pawn of the Inquisitor, than
I've experienced before. Van Dam pulls off this vulnerability without once
sacrificing the strength of his character. Very interesting
Waltraut Meier couldn't have been anybody's idea of an ideal Eboli, yet, she
inhabits the character so fully turns in a magnificent performance, and
looks damned stunning in doing so. Her vocalism in the Veil Song was kind
of bizarre - it had a "warble" like quality that made it difficult to tell
just what pitch she was actually on, yet she was beguiling and pulled it
off. Once that was out of the way, everything else came from strength. I
do wish that this mezzo would cultivate some chest voice. Her low notes
seem to be her weakest and they sound exactly (except nearly inaudible) as
her middle voice.
Mattila is just a wonder. The voice is capable of so many colors while
retaining a unifying, very individual sound. It is a tough voice to place
into any specific category: it's capable of riding the orchestra and cutting
through it with laser like clarity, yet it retains a sweetness most unusual
to the typically "steely" type of voice that I often associate with
accomplishing that type of singing. Her sustained high piano singing is
nothing short of miraculous, she takes a thin thread of sound that is
perfectly placed and as clean as I could ever imagine (e.g., her farewell to
her exiled lady in waiting), other times she produces an effect that sounds
just as silk gauze feels (reminding Carlos she is now his mother) - it's all
piano, but she sings these moments entirely different from each other.
Remarkable. Every movement, every gesture came directly from her Elisabeth
and went straight into my heart.
With the least amount of stage time, Eric Halfvarson's twisted, crippled
Grand Inquisitor truly becomes a dominant central figure and the very
physical embodiment of evil as he sets a tale of corruption, politics and
religion already near chaos and spins it completely out of control.
I have so much positive to say about this production that I feel I could
write a book on it (don't worry). Nearly every moment in this long work is
filled with heartbreaking magic and beauty, Posa's death scene perhaps
taking place of honour. The Chatelet audience responded with a thunderous
and extended ovation. I wish I'd been there.
29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on June 20, 2003
I've seen this one in the original Laserdiscs with Japanese subtitles. I've seen it on VHS. Now finally, DVD. I can't wait.
One of the very great performances of Verdi's finest. Karita Mattila has to be seen and heard to be believed. Gorgeous lady, touching actress. Eric Halfvarson as the Grand Inquisitor will give you nightmares. I once saw the great Hans Hotter do the role. Eric is in his league. Waltraud Meyer, once past a rocky Veil Song, is superb. (Somehow nobody but Marilyn Horne could ever do the Veil Song, and O don fatale was beyond her) Jose van Dam will not make you forget Boris Christoff or Cesare Siepi but is fine, just fine as Philippe.
A younger Alagna is finally in his perfect role. He and Thomas Hampson play off each other in a way Verdi may not have intended but probably would approve. To be blunt, Rodrigo has the hots for Carlo. Carlo is merely dependent. But Flanders be damned.
Special touch to watch for: at the very end of the Queen's and Carlo's farewell, she just touches a curl on the back of his head. That sums up a doomed relationship perfectly.
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on October 4, 2005
Luchino Visconti's famous Covent Garden production (originally from 1958, here revived in 1985) is now available on DVD--the sets are stark, the costumes sumptuous. Luis Lima is the most dramatic and moving Don Carlo on DVD; Ileana Cotrubas is a small scale but touching Elisabetta--tears well up in both their eyes in their final duet. The rest of the cast is fine, especially Zancanaro (Rodrigo) and Lloyd (Philip II). Picture quality is uneven, sound excellent. Haitink is a delicate but effective conductor of the full (3 1/2 hour) score. In general, the most powerful performance available of this most grand of Verdi operas.
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on December 7, 2005
There is something about Don Carlo that makes me continually buy new versions (I'm up to seven now)looking for new ways of enjoying this profound nd beautiful work. I was rather suspicious of Mark the Music lovers gushy review, but so delighted to find how right he was. I have never been so moved and excited by filmed opera.
Luis Lima's performance is extraordinary. His voice does not have the beauty of Carreras on the Karajan DVD and the tone can spread at times, but you are too busy being thrilled by his performance to notice. The acting is full of subtleties (his eye work is incredible)and passion, his singing musical and sensitive and his diction extraordinarily clear. He chooses to bring out the (historical) mental instability of the character which adds a whole new dimention to the drama. His reactions to other characters' singing are so convicing that they seem to be acting better than they are.
Giorgio Zancanro is not the world's best actor but he was one the best singers. This is an example of perfect singing. He weilds his hefty, granite like voice with security, a thorough understanding of Verian style and grace. Lima encourages him to produce the best acting I have seen from him on video. Posa's death scene, which is really not Verdi's greatest moment is sensational dramatically and musically.
Cotrubas' voice had such a limpid beauty, so appropriate for this role and she too acts superbly, showing a woman crushed by her hideous circumstances. The duets with Lima are
intensely beautiful and emotinally charged and make gripping viewing. I'm afraid it will make you reassess many of the other operatic performances you own on DVD.
Lloyd's voice, presence and acting are very strong. The duet between Posa and Philip is exciting both for the convincing dralatic presentation and for the combination of two such superb voices.
Are there negatives? Well a few. The greatest music of the opera
(the entire Act iv) is the video's least convincing section. Lloyd is a bit too musically wilful with the great aria and the duet with the inquisitor ( who doesn't quite cope with the upper register and tries to overcompensate) is not as thrilling as it should be. There are slight ensemble problems in the quartet and "O Don Fatale" is ordinary. Baglione's voice is beautiful in the upper register but her presence is matronly and the acting histrionic(Unfortunatley Karajan's Baltsa sets a very high standard). But these are small niggles when there is so much perfection to enjoy (much of it from the pit).
If you are a Verdian you must purchase this DVD.
26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on January 9, 2001
Underneath the heavy costumes and grandiose scenery of most major productions of Verdi's DON CARLOS, is there a heart beating? The pared-downed backgrounds and costumes of this version focus our attention not on what Elisabeth de Valois might be wearing to the ball in Act 3 but rather what is she doing, what might she be thinking? The direction is also fantastic - these characters are not encouraged to merely stand and sing (take for example the Veil Song - when have we ever seen the ladies of the court truly enjoy themselves as in this production?). Our attention is riveted towards the interaction between characters, and that is what opera is truly about. The string of confrontations which forms the opera is charged with electricity here.
Those who have heard the recording were often disappointed by the audience presence and the dry theater acoustic. These are less problematic here. Tony Pappano conducts with a great sense of scale - his singers don't have to struggle and yet nothing outstays its welcome. The version he conducts, a smattering from various editions, is quite satisfying, giving all the characters their fair say (especially Phillippe's "Qui me rendra ce mort " lament after Rodrigue's murder) without bowing to various passages of score that may have caused the evening to drag on (the ballet La Peregrina is thankfully not restored). Roberto Alagna sings with a slightly metallic tone, as is his wont, almost entirely at an unrelieved mezzo-forte; this trait is not as unwelcome when one sees it in the context of a stage performance, although on recording it can be quite tiring. Jose Van Dam may not have a rich velvet carpet of a voice as Phillippe, unlike the ideal basso of one's dreams, but as always he is a solid performer - although notice how he gets the most acoustic mileage out of singing out the side of his mouth. In his defense, those who argue that he is too lightweight for Phillippe must remember that 1. there must be some contrast between Phillippe and the true profundo of the Inquisitor, 2. French basses traditionally had a lighter sound than those of other ethnic traditions, 3. the historical Philip II of Spain was only 33 when he married Elisabeth de Valois. What I miss in him are the half-shades of the human character - what really makes Phillippe tick, what makes him real besides what we see on stage. Eric Halvarson is a good Inquisitor - perhaps not the most subtly menacing man-of-God to cross a stage, but therein lies the difficulty of the role. Waltraud Meier is a vivid Eboli, although vocally not the strongest exponent of the role to ever be heard. She is truly alive and with a terribly expressive face, and we really believe her when she curses her "don fatal".
The two stars of the performance are Tom Hampson and Karita Mattila. Hampson, made to look terribly unshaven (like any of the men in Patrice Chereau's QUEEN MARGOT), sings and acts with ultimate conviction, never forsaking a sense of line with never neglecting the power of the word. Not a conventional Verdi baritone, perhaps that is his strength - he doesn't try to be. And he sings (flawlessly!) the trills in the Act 2 trio with Eboli and Elisabeth. Mattila has a wonderfully creamy tone and is gorgeous onstage as Elisabeth. She emanates warmth and feeling (as when she comforts the Countess d'Aremberg), no wonder Phillippe broods about being unloved by her! She shortchanges no emotions as the queen, while pouring out a smooth, pure sound all throughout the score - notice her high pianissimi!
The letdown after watching this video is perhaps no other production will be able to so powerfully focus in on the characters as we see here. I'm not sure I'll get used to seeing the royal livery and parting-of-the-Red-Sea cast of thousands that hallmark every other production of this opera mounted in the world (the '83 Met video with Domingo and Freni, anyone?)...
For those who truly love DON CARLOS, you owe it to yourself to hunt down Christopher Morgan's DON CARLOS AND COMPANY - out-of-print but to found here and there in used bookstores. The DON CARLOS chapter is essential reading - ESSENTIAL. Someone should probably write an opera based on the facts in that chapter...
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on July 6, 2000
Luc Bondy's production of Don Carlos by Giuseppe Verdi (sung in the original French) has a superb cast who not only sing beautifully but act very convincingly as well. Roberto Alagna takes the title role and shows us an ardent lover, a thwarted, passionate man who has to deal with his fiancee marrying his father for reasons of state, his best friend being sacrificed to the Spanish Inquisition for his loyalty, finding his father distant and solitary yet vulnerable to his religious advisor and trying to fend off the unwelcome advances of his father's mistress. Verdi lavished some of his most poignant and lyrical music on the score which contains intimate scenes of arias and duets,but also public spectacle and huge choruses as in the "Auto-da-fe" scene. Thomas Hampson shines as Don Carlos' best friend, Rodrigo who is caught up in the fight for freedom for one of Spain's conquered countries, Flanders. His character represents the "enlightened" man of his age so Verdi gives him some of the most moving tunes but really all the characters are allowed to express themselves in such a way as to engage our sympathy at various times. The women are equally strong with Karita Mattila as Elisabeth de Valois, the noble, young princess who must leave her beloved France to marry the father while loving the son, and Waltraud Meier as Princess Eboli, the king's mistress who is also attracted to Don Carlos. Jose Van Dam distinguishes himself as King Philip 11 with his elegaic aria on unrequited love. This opera deserves to be as well known as Rigoletto, Traviata and Trovatore as it contains so many memorable tunes and ensembles. Hopefully with this production, which is more complete than most, we will be able to appreciate the large, magnificent canvas that Verdi has translated into a most human story of private love and public duty. Excellent singing, heart-rending acting, fraught situations and glorious tunes ... who could want more?
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on September 26, 2007
Of all the "Don Carlo's" available I have only seen the Von Karajan. But for starters any version which omits the Fontanbleu scene is out of the running. Verdi rewrote the confrontation between Phillipe and Elisabeth and the final duet between Elisabeth and Carlo when he made the shorter version without the first act. Unfortunately, all of these revisions weakened the drama in my opinion. As to the principles, surely Domingo is a better singer and actor than Lima but Lima is more appropriate physically, even though his "hamming" gets a bit silly at times. But Domingo may be the only asset in the Met version. Judging from comments on this site about other versions, the Met had some problems with the lower roles. In the Haitink performance Zancanaro gives a flawless performance. Others have faulted his acting, but though it is understated, I feel that his work is beyond criticism. He always strikes the right mood. Watch his glances at the other characters that he is not addresssing. He is always manley and subtle. As to his singing, others have commented on his excellence. To me, he is the best Verdi Baritone on DVD. Thanks goodness he did not stay a policemen (his first career, evidently) LLoyd has a gorgeous sound. And he is suitably imperious and mencacing. Some have complained about the Grand Inquisitor but he is supposed to be an old man. I, myself, find it disconcerting when I hear a young singer with a fresh voice singing what should be a old person. It doesn't work. Generally though, age bothers me less than some other reviewers. Elisabeth looks a bit old, sure, but Cotrubas give a very touching performance in a role probably too "big" for her. But contrast her with Freni. Between her vocal lines Freni is mentally counting until her next entrance. Cotrubas is in character every moment of the performance. The Eboli is disappointing although she acts well enough. The voice just isn't up to the demands of the role. Others have praised Baltsa but I found her Eboli in the Karajan unbelievable coarse. I think it might be remembered that court life, especially during the Inquisition, was a very sticky business. People would be more likely to behave in a restrained manner at all times lest a false move anger the people they served. This production, as conceived by Lucchino Visconti, is dark and brooding, restrained and subtle as well. After two viewings It emerges as moving drama which fits together in spite of flaws to form an absorbing whole. I feel that it totally serves the greatness of the work.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on December 12, 2003
I've had the Met DVD of Don Carlo (the 5 Act Italian version) for a couple of years. Last year our local company, the Minnesota Opera, produced Don Carlos, in the 4 Act French version. Their program notes claimed that they chose this because French more appropriately conveyed the emotions of the opera. Unfortunately, the gap in artistic capabilities between the Met cast and that of the Minnesota Opera obscured this distinction.
This production, the 5 Act French version, is a real eye-opener. It's almost as if the French and Italian versions were different operas altogether. Certainly the English subtitle texts differ significantly between the two. But by far more important is the degree of emotional intensity this production displays (and this is consistent with what I saw in Minneapolis). The Met's production is rather cool and formal. This one is hot, up-close, and personal. One has to wonder whether something was lost in translation when the opera was moved this from its original French libretto to the Italian.
Bottom line -- if you like Verdi, get them both. It's fascinating to compare and contrast the two productions. Both feature absolutely top-notch principal singers in the prime of their careers. The two houses are different in their approaches, (big-bucks showy at the Met, more low cost and abstract at the Chatelet) but equally effective. You will be amazed at how differently two productions of the "same" opera can turn out. And both, by their own standards, are very good.