Jon M. De Benedictis | Fairfield, CT United States | 10/20/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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."
One of the Best Opera DVDs Period
G P Padillo | Portland, ME United States | 02/04/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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 of purpose.
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 characterization.
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.
The Finest Opera on Video
Alberich von Fafner | Oak Cliff, TX | 06/20/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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.
Fascinating.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."
The true heart of a Verdian masterpiece
Doug Han | Ithaca, NY United States | 01/09/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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..."
Stellar International Cast Restores Opera to Rightful Place
jeremypxxxxx | Darwin, Australia | 07/06/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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?"