TOP 500 REVIEWERon 20 February 2015
Within five years of one another were recorded two of the great opera recordings, both of Verdi's "Don Carlo," both with Covent Garden forces: Solti's from 1965, and Giulini's from 1970. Both have excellent sound quality, and both are very strongly cast. Both are "five-star" recordings, and I don't think there's much to be gained by looking for reasons to say that one is definitely superior to the other. There are differences to be noted, but they don't amount to much more than differences, and personal preferences can be left to sentimental attachments to this or that singer. For example, the lack of "Italianate" tone by Fisher-Dieskau doesn't bother me one bit, though in no way is he any better than Sherrill Milnes, whose Rodrigo was one of the best things he ever did. One can tell too that Domingo had a bit more heft in his voice than Bergonzi, but Bergonzi's singing is so focused and beautiful in tone that it silences criticism. The two Ebolis, Verrett and Bumbry are both splendid, and Raimondi's King Philip was a match for Ghiaurov in pointedness of expression and beauty of tone. The Inquisitors were interestingly different, I thought. Talvela, for Solti, sounded like the Commendatore in "Don Giovanni" -- a spokesman for an otherworldly authority. Foiani, for Giulini, was a more human interlocutor for the King, but no less effective. In the auto-da-fe scene, I thought the Giulini recording had a tad more presence, and the Voice from Heaven sounded appropriately anguished. Both Fisher-Dieskau and Milnes in that scene made their single solo utterances with terrific authority. As far as the conductors were concerned, it was swings and roundabouts -- in the Philip-Inquisitor scene, Giulini seemed more urgent and the confrontation more dramatic -- and to my surprise, I discovered later that he was actually a bit slower! I give the edge to Giulini too in the auto-da-fe, but I preferred Solti in the Carlo-Elisabetta duets. Of course, it's difficult to sort out in such cases one's responses to the conductors as separate from the soloists and chorus and even from what the sound engineers have provided.
My sense of the most meaningful difference was in the sopranos. Tebaldi in 1965 was, it has been said, in vocal trouble, and the voice is certainly a coarser instrument than it was seven or eight years earlier. Caballe was relatively new on the scene, and her voice was in splendid condition. However, it's on the light side for some of Elisabetta's music, and Tebaldi sang with great spirit and a feel for the text at crucial points that Caballe didn't quite match. This bothered me only in one place, though -- and unfortunately it was in the first part of the finale. In that final scene, Caballe seemed not to catch fire or phrase with any intensity until the reprise of "Tu che la vanita." From then on, she was fine. Tebaldi, though, was all over it from the start, attacked the high notes fearlessly, dug into the words, and moved the whole thing along, Solti in full support. Bergonzi sang wonderfully throughout, but never better than at the end. Caballe and Domingo were fine there too, their farewell duet almost otherworldly, while Tebaldi and Bergonzi were earthier in attack. Obviously I have both recordings -- and I fully intend to hold on to them!