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Gayla McDowell | Orange, CA United States | 10/14/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I ordered this from England, so I received it before it was released in the USA. I wanted it because it was to be the only video which has all the music that Verdi wrote for the 1867 premiere in Paris (although it wasn't all performed at the premiere). Since I have the Châtelet performance from 1996, I thought that with having this new one, I wouldn't need the earlier one anymore. However, I was badly mistaken. The Châtelet performance was billed at the time as "uncut", but I don't understand that, as the Opera Rara audio set recently issued was originally broadcast in 1972, and that performance contains not only the ballet music but also the introduction and chorus of foresters at the very beginning and the Act IV duet between Elisabeth and Eboli before "O don fatal," which are omitted in the Châtelet production. It is mainly the PRODUCTION in the Vienna performance, however, that I find objectionable, so much so that I if I ever play it, I will just listen and turn the TV off. The Fontainebleau scene is nicely done, however, with the foresters gathering around a stove and warming themselves in the cold weather. But even with just listening there are sounds in the performance which are not supposed to be there, such as when Carlos calls on the phone to order pizza during the ballet music, the words of the introducer for the autodafe, some sounds of disapproval from the audience during the autodafe, coughs from the audience, and the sound of Eboli screaming in agony in the Act IV crowd scene where she is stabbed in the back by an unknown assassin: a change in the plot which makes no sense to me except to add to the gruesomeness of it all. About the ballet, we are given instead of dancing a pantomime skit called "Eboli's dream," which consists of a comedy routine in which Carlos and Eboli are married and invite the boss and his wife (Philip and Elisabeth) over to dinner in a 1970's apartment. The roast chicken gets burned, so Carlos orders a pizza, which is delivered by Posa (dressed in a t-shirt with Posa's Pizza on the back.) (This is not too hard to take given the fact that it is supposed to be a dream.) The scenery throughout is just the same 3 walls, with low doors in the bottom that people have to stoop to get in and out of. The variation for the different scenes is just done through lighting. For the Châtelet performance reviewers in the past have not liked the sets, but I find them very good by comparison, as they certainly do bear some resemblance to the places they are supposed to represent. The costumes in the Vienna performance are for the most part right for the 16th century, except of course in the autodafe where the people are dressed in suits and evening gowns and holding wine glasses, and a few other places. The idea of having Eboli present during Philip's soliloquy and even when the Grand Inquisitor is there, and even having her hold an end of the Inquisitor's staff, seems to me laughable and to distract from Philip during his scene. As for the singing, Karita Mattila on the Châtelet set as Elisabeth is a wonder and of course much preferable to Iano Tamar; the others are comparable, with the pendulum swinging more to the older set. Bo Skovhus is good as Rodrigue, only the way he is dressed, wearing those modern style glasses, makes him remind me of a mafia type and hinders me from really listening to his singing. The Philip of Alastair Miles is especially good, and he really looks like King Philip judging from pictures I've seen.
I should also mention that both the Vienna set and the Châtelet set use the early version of the Posa-Philip duet, which is not nearly so dramatic as the later version in which Philip tells Posa that the Flemish people are enjoying peace under his rule, to which Posa replies very dramatically: Cette paix! La paix du cimetière! (in the Italian version: Orrenda, orrenda pace; la pace è dei sepulcri = Terrible, terrible peace; the peace is that of the grave). This is something I miss in both of these videos, as well as in the Opera Rara set, and in fact the only place where you can hear this in the French version is in the old DG audio set with Domingo, and Leo Nucci as Rodrigue and Ruggero Raimondi as Philip.
I'm going to try to sell my copy of this new video at the first opportunity. "
Verdi with controversy but with depth
Richard | Minneapolis, Mongolia | 02/11/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A very powerful performance this. It uses every note Verdi originally wrote for the Paris production including the ballet music. It is a very good performance with Skovhus and Miles standing out from a fine cast. There are better performances on the other DVDs but this one can pass the test and it has other virtues going for it. The controversy lies as it does in the regie production. Konvitchny may be controvesial but I 've found if you hear him out he not only makes sense but offers keen insights into the piece. His direction offers depth of character as few productions do. As to the scenery the Fontainblue act is played fairly realistically and with a real dash of color which disappears when Elisabeth is stripped and fitted with the black which is the only color in the Spanish court. As the act ends a three walled box descends from above obliterating the starry sky. The rest of the opera will be played within this white prison until the final moments offer a way out for Carlos and Elisabeth. There are touches where you are shocked such as Carlos and Rodrigo crawling around on the floor as they pledge loyalty to one another until you realize they are renewing their childhood friendship. The most controversial events occur in the 3rd act. Konvitchny replaces the ballet by Eboli's dream of life with Carlos - set in a 60s iiving room. It is the only color since the first act - the only escape from the stiffling court. If you decide to do the ballet in a production such as this what are you to do? Tutus just wouldn't do. I think he makes a case for his idea. Then Konvitchny tranfers the Auto da Fe to the theater itself. A TV announcer gives commentary from the lobby as the royal family and the grand inquisitor take their seats. This audacity elicts both applause and loud boos from the audience. But is it out of place? The first time I heard Don Carlo I wondered what this scene had to do with the rest of the opera. Would Verdi have written it were it not de rigeur for a Grand Opera? Only about 10 minutes concerns the overall plot. The rest is superfluous. Why not make a statement showing how we are still complicitous in murder? Certainly makes sense to this American at this time. Finally there is the matter of the ending. Verdi himself never found a satisfactory solution. Every other production I've seen just sputters out. I won't give away Konvitchny's solution, but it delivers a tremendous wallop. Is this a traditional comfy production? Not on your life. But does it give insight into these suffering people: wondrously human characters caught in a system in which even Philip and the Grand Inquisitor are victims? Indeed it does."
Constantin Declercq | 06/13/2008
(1 out of 5 stars)
"Truly awful. A very bad production. Conductor Bertrand de Billy gives a dull performance. Male singers don't do their job -besides having a dreadful French. Nadia Michael's Eboli would be the only one positive point. Konwitschny directed the opera for the stage and he's the first reason not to buy this dvd: nothing original or interesting here, his little bourgeois mediocrity is everywhere in his choices, the worst being the ballet replaced by a ridiculous «Eboli's dream». What is the point having the original score if it's butchered like this? ---------
À la sortie de ce dvd, les critiques étaient très partagés : si «Opéra magazine» l'encensait, «Diapason» publiait une très mauvaise critique. Malheureusement avec raison.
Musicalement d'abord, toutes les erreurs ont été accumulées : un chef en pilote automatique, des chanteurs inadéquats vocalement et un mépris absolu pour la langue. La leçon du quintuple vinyl Deutsche Grammophon enregistré dans les années 80 avec Domingo et Abbado n'a malheureusement pas porté. C'est même pire car Bertrand de Billy est d'une insignifiance rare. Et encore une fois pourquoi monter cet opéra en français si les chanteurs ne peuvent que mâchouiller la langue et en détruire la prosodie ? Cela pourrait à l'extrême limite passer si ces derniers étaient adaptés à leur rôle. Las ! Ramón Vargas est dépassé par Don Carlos et ses allures de Sancho popotte ne font que noircir le tableau. Bo Skovhus braille son Rodrigue et ne sait pas quoi faire de sa grande carcasse (surtout quand il chante vautré sur le pauvre Vargas). Alastair Miles est un mauvais Philippe II sourd et inexpressif. Les femmes sont plutôt meilleures : Iano Tamar est une Élisabeth convaincante à qui il ne manque plus que des cours à l'Alliance française ; Nadia Michael enfin, est une bonne Eboli qui compense ce qui lui manque en voix par une présence dramatique admirable (ce qui est habituel chez elle, sa Médée bruxelloise de mai 2008 en est un autre exemple). Par ailleurs cette chanteuse allemande est la seule de toute la distribution à avoir un bon français.
L'intérêt du dvd est bien sûr de montrer la mise en scène. Et là, c'est dantesque. Peter Konwitschny a d'abord eu à coeur de faire du laid avec les habituels néons. Ensuite il s'est employé à supprimer toute grandeur. Toute mise en scène moderne qui se veut pensée comme la sienne est en fait l'expression d'une dégringolade petite-bourgeoise, ce qui sied mal à Schiller, à Verdi, à l'Espagne du siècle d'or ou même à tout opéra. Le clou en est le ballet. Bien sûr, on peut toujours épiloguer sur la pertinence du ballet ou sur la qualité de la musique, mais si on le joue pourquoi ne pas donner la vraie Peregrina, le couronnement d'Élisabeth/Eboli, que finalement on n'a jamais vu ? Cette fois, nous avons droit à un «Rêve d'Eboli», où elle s'imagine dans un HLM mariée à Carlos et recevant ses beaux-parents pour une pizza livrée par «Posa's pizza». Évidemment cela se veut être de l'humour mais cette trivilisation facile en dit long sur la palette limitée dont dispose le metteur en scène. Aller au-delà des personnages de Schiller pour retrouver les vrais personnages historiques aurait été un défi nettement plus intéressant comme idée de mise en scène mais cela aurait demandé de la culture et du travail et non simplement d'avoir une seule pauvre idée indigne de la plus minable des agences publicitaires. Ana Mendoza de la Cerda, princesse d'Eboli et grande d'Espagne a eu un destin autrement plus intéressant que ce que montre Konwitschny. Car il ne s'arrête pas là, puisque comme dans une comédie de boulevard on la surprend dans le lit de Philippe II (contresens du point de vue du livret) et l'Inquisiteur marche sur sa robe en entrant dans le cabinet du roi. Autre idiotie : elle s'auto-mutile et s'énuclée l'oeil gauche. Pourquoi se mutiler, et surtout cet oeil-là ? (Dans la réalité Eboli avait un bandeau sur l'oeil droit mais cela n'a rien à voir avec ce qui se passe dans l'opéra puisqu'il s'agit d'une séquelle d'un duel avec un page de son père.) Dernière idée saugrenue : l'autodafé est transformé en retransmission télévisée à cheval sur la scène et les couloirs de l'Opéra. La présentatrice annonce donc le roi et sa cour comme s'il s'agissait de candidats à une émission de télévision-réalité. Bien sûr, à des prisonniers politiques sur scène correspond un lâcher de tracts dans la salle. Attention : idée politique forte. Bref, les grosses Birkenstock de M. Konwitschny sont bien lourdes ! Le pire est peut-être que ces idées pesantes et sur-appuyées sont présentées comme novatrices et originales alors que l'on est dans le ressassé petit-bourgeois le plus absolu.
En bref, quatre heures bien pénibles..."
Brooklyn GV | Brooklyn NY | 03/29/2009
(1 out of 5 stars)
"The New York Times put it the best when reviewing a new production of another opera at The Met: 'This is more about the director than Bellini'. This well sung (In french), if emotional empty production of Don Carlos, is laden with some of the most stupid ideas. Good singing by Vargas. Overall an embarrisingly piece of junk! And what about What's his name dress up like Mephistopheles?"
A spectacular 5-star booing event
Filippo Secondo | 12/01/2007
(1 out of 5 stars)
"OK, I did know before buying that this is a 'modernized' staging: the stills shown on the DVD cover say it all (confusingly, these shots were taken from performances different from the ones recorded here). Well, I kept my fingers crossed, hoping that any weird theatrical practices would be compensated for with (at least) a near-satisfactory vocal performance. I would have, then, forgiven such scenes as the paparazzi/gala auto-da-fe (on which more below), and the Queen's ballet 'La Peregrina' played by the soloists themselves and renamed 'Eboli's Dream', a sitcom which looks more like 'The Pregnant Eboli's Kitchen/Chicken/Pizza'. I hope they got extra financial credit for this acrobatic episode, their body language being more expressive than and superior to their vocal abilities (we don't get to know if Eboli aborts after executing her role as ballerina). Mercifully, the dream disposes of the small low doors where the whole singing cast - lucky conductor and orchestra! - have to bend for entrances and exits (how many backache casualties by the end of the production run?).
Apart from Miles and Tamar (even this Philippe - the English subtitles insist that he is 'Philipp' - and Elisabeth are slightly past their best), the singers ('all long-term stalwarts of the Vienna Opera', reads the booklet) are either in poor voice or (worse) gifted with raw vocal cords, with average-to-poor intonation (you don't need to clean your ears or put on your headphones to be aware of it): eg Posa's 'Votre epee' in the auto-da-fe becomes 'Votre [?]', a word which I can't decipher; in her confrontation with Philippe, Elisabeth sings 'Ces portrait' instead of 'Ce portrait'; Eboli shifts briefly to Italian, singing 'Pieta, perdon' in place of 'Pitie, pardon' at the beginning of her confession scene with Elisabeth; Carlos, who also forgets - in the Act 1 finale - that he's in a French opera, uniquely combines the original text ('Helas! Helas!') with its Italian counterpart ('Ahime! Ahime!'), singing 'Ahimas! Helas!' (to the singers' embarrassment, the French subtitles give away the garbled phrases correctly).
Vargas is a mediocre Carlos and a second-class actor: his self-conscious gestures and facial expressions (especially smiles) are laughable, no match either for the ROH's Lima or the Chatelet's Alagna (both of whom are regal, vocally and physically). (I can't believe that this is the same Vargas who sings a brilliant Almaviva on the Naxos 'Barbiere', or who gives magnificent portrayals of Verdian heroes on his RCA recital disc.)
Skovhus being vocally below standard, is this elderly bespectacled/pony-tailed Posa meant to be a dumb mummy's boy, or what? In his transformation as a delivery boy, the back of his T-shirt reads 'Posa's Pizza': what country, friends, is this? (Oh, I forgot that - in accordance with the holy 'Regietheater' protocol - the setting is meant to be symbolic, universal, timeless, and so on.)
The sexy Michael (though too self-conscious in her dream) is a better actress than Vargas, but her blowzy decibels are unbearable for 4 hours (pity, because her singing is accurate, the flamenco ornamentations in the Veil Song rivalling those of the best mezzos, past and present): this Eboli bleeds with a knife (Philippe's razor/Carlos' broken picture frame?) in 'O don fatal' (terribly sung) more or less in the manner of the Chatelet production, where Meier's face bleeds scratching it with her fingernails, but Eboli's murder in the 'Emeute' here is not plagiarized from any previous production on DVD (how on earth does she lose the eye which she covers with a patch in the insurrection scene when it's fully open during the aria, and why does Elisabeth in the garden scene - lucky guess: there are no gardens, but there is a plant! - refer to her mask as 'black' when it's golden?).
Though Yang's Grand Inquisitor - who is supposed to evoke only God knows which real-life/fictional character - is vocally imposing, the role's dramatic presence is spoiled by distractingly grotesque mime with Philippe and Eboli (yes, the latter is present throughout the scene, where she is shown spending the night with the King: a reversed plagiarism from Chatelet, where Elisabeth sleeps in the royal bed).
The Lerme of Benedikt Kobel is the wobbliest ever (on the point of exploding even before he opens his mouth).
You may enjoy this DVD and even shower it with superlatives (awesome, breathtaking, a must-see, etc) if you're new to the opera (ie if it's your first DON CARLOS in any format), but those who have an intimate knowledge of this work and know it by heart - not least because they own 30-40 recordings on CD and DVD and are (therefore) able to tell for sure which ones are extraordinary, good, and bad - will need to close both eyes and ears.
That this is the only version of the music composed for the 1867 premiere currently available on DVD is lamentable after such a long wait. In all fairness, the chorus and orchestra are superb; with the exception of the first 10 minutes (a stupendously - though minimally - staged woodcutters scene), the production as a whole is a huge letdown, the obtrusive stage business unnecessarily trivializing the tragic events - eg while the first part of Posa's farewell may make you shed a tear or two (his body language being rightly minimal), the second part (soon after he is shot) will anticlimactically reduce you to laughter, because of the ridiculous accompanying directorial gestures, as when Posa extends his fist towards Carlos as a sign of friendship (performed a couple of times earlier, this gesture replaces the more emotional handshake), and also when Posa dies falling on Carlos, rather than the other way round.
Nonetheless, make sure you don't miss the boos during the auto-da-fe, just before the Royal Herald begins: the cast (now - according to the director's sublime wishes - in the auditorium) react with mixed emotions, the really angry Miles interrupting a contemporary president's commonplace gesture, which he awkwardly repeats after the booing stops, looking sillier the second time around. I have the impression that the booing was planned by the production team on the night this scene was filmed, so as to acknowledge the director's genius, since the booers were ultimately silenced by the applauders (I bet the inspired director insisted on retaining it on the DVD for this reason): if (according to the booklet) 'Huge applause was heaped on the cast of the premiere', why would anyone boo (though, of course, it isn't unlikely) long after the production had opened, and on that particular night? (The booing doesn't exist on the Orfeo audio version, which was recorded in October 2004, this video in October and November.)
A full cipher of a production worth renting for the unmissable booing event (spontaneous or planned), hence the star above."