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Giuseppe Verdi: Don Carlo

A review from Gramophone, December 1988

The superlative talents assembled nere are probably a little too heterogeneous for an ideal performance, even if all were ideally suited to their parts. Tebaldi is a somewhat too mature and a not particularly imaginative Elisabeth, Bumbry finds little to fascinate in the character of Eboli, Bergonzi needs more tension in his singing and sometimes more steel and body, Fischer-Dieskau was reared in a different school altogether and Talvela's voice as recorded here hardly suggests the grandeur of his physical presence. That leaves Ghiaurov's magnificent Philip II as sole representative of the ideal or something close to it. Still, we are living in this imperfect world, and, if it were not for the Giulini EMI recording, this of Solti's would be the one we would do best to keep.

It starts to grip in the very place where inferior performances let attention slip, the interview between the King and Posa. Singer and conductor work as one in Posa's impassioned counselling, and Ghiaurov is superb in response, his tone gaining fierce concentration in his warnings against the Grand Inquisitor. Then Solti brings his own special touch to the auto-da-fe scene so that what can sound merely brassy and tawdry has animation and splendour. John Culshaw's production succeeds well here in suggesting the breadth and colour of the stage setting. One comes to look forward to the orchestral introductions, the cello solo at the start of Act 4 being beautifully played; then the sense of ancient power, cumbrous and awesome as a waking dinosaur, accompanying the entrance of the Inquisitor, and the strange slow rocking motion as of a ship of death at the opening of the prison scene. Philip's monologue, private, weary, deeply human, is one of the finest pieces of singing in the opera, and Posa's "Per me giunto", more unexpectedly perhaps, is another, for Fischer-Dieskau cares lovingly for the lyrical phrases and has the technique to provide those musical refinements which Verdi's countrymen have generally preferred to ignore.

Any question of the composer's intentions of course raises wider issues, that of language for instance. This is the 'standard' Italian Carlos though it includes the ensemble after Rodrigo's death in Act 4 as well as the Fontainebleau scene at the start. For the French version, and additional material, the Abbado set (DG 415 316-2GH4, 12/85) stands apart. The Karajan (EMI) fine in many ways, is one of those in which singers and orchestra seem to have changed places, with the orchestra on stage providing some of the noisiest musical punctuation on record. Giulini, with Domingo and Caballe at the height of their powers, is the clear recommendation. The Solti, slightly harsher in digital remastering, still has its distinction as it strives to encompass the rich expansiveness of this darkly noble score.




Elisabetta: Renata Tebaldi
Don Carlo: Carlo Bergonzi
Eboli: Grace Bumbry
Rodrigo: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
Filippo II: Nicolai Ghiaurov
Inquisitor: Martti Talvela
Thibault: Jeanette Sinclair
Count of Lerma: Kenneth MacDonald
A monk: Tugomir Franc
Herald: John Wakefield

Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal
Opera House, Covent Garden
Sir Georg Solti

Decca 421 114-2


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