Customer Review

19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great work brought to life, 20 Mar. 2009
This review is from: Verdi: Don Carlos [DVD] [2001] (DVD)
Getting to know opera on cd long before you see it live or on dvd often results in disappointment. The pictures you've formed in your head may be far more dramatic, realistic or just plain believable than what's presented to your eyes. After getting to know Don Carlo through the Karajan EMI recording it was a huge letdown for me to turn to the Salzburg DVD with some of the same principles - Karajan himself, Carreras, Cappuccilli, Baltsa. The eight years between the two recordings had taken their toll on the first three and the only positive addition was the Filippo of Ferruccio Furlanetto. Production was murky and confused, acting (apart from Furlanetto) of the old stand-and-shout school, the whole affair somewhat ramshackle. I decided I'd overestimated the work itself and left it at that before reading reviews of this Theatre du Chatelet Don Carlos. Being in the original French and in a whole different version of this many-versioned opera, it gave me an excuse to spend my hard-earned cash on yet another Don Carlo(s) recording. Wise decision.

This Don Carlos has not only restores my faith in the work itself, I also count it as one of the best all-round operas I have on dvd. Everything that is wrong in the Salzburg production is right here. Sets are simple and serve the story well. Acting, all round, is superb. Pappano's conducting is precise, sensitive, thoroughly Verdian, and totally in synch with the singers. All principles are in top voice. I'm no great fan of Alagna but here he gives the performance of a lifetime in the title role, reminding us of why he was originally touted as Pavarotti's successor. Mattila, as Elisabeth, is excellent and, of course, great to look at. Playing Princess Eboli, Meier starts a little shakily but goes from strength to strength as the opera progresses. Hampson, as Rodrigue, silences those who claim he cannot sing Verdi and his interaction with Alagna is completely convincing . Van Dam gives us a Philip far more three-dimensional than usual and his Act 4 scene with the Inquisitor is perhaps the climax of this reading. Most of all, the story makes sense, flows, holds together, far better than in any other performance I've seen or heard. Whether this should be credited to this particular version, the director, conductor or whoever makes no difference, it's a triumphant success. Only the very last lines, where the friar/Carlo V reappears to drag Don Carlos offstage, fail to convince. But unlike the Salzburg production, at least here you can make out what happened and have an inkling of what Verdi might have had in his mind's eye. It just doesn't quite work.

Director Bondy gives us a different slant on the relationship between some of the principles, chiefly between Rodrigue, Philip and Don Carlos. Viewers will make up their own minds as to what's happening and whether it makes sense. For me, it certainly does. In his book on Verdi's operas Charles Osborne dismisses the original French Don Carlos out of hand. I wonder if he ever saw it. There is absolutely nothing here to suggest that Verdi was unsympathetic towards the French language or struggled to mesh it with his music. On the contrary, this production underlines what a brilliant man he was, how he was able to adapt his technique to a language other than his native one as if to the manor born. I'd encourage anybody who loves this work and has an open mind to try this Chatelet production.
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