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Verdi: Don Carlos / Vargas, Skovhus, De Billy

Verdi / Vargas / Skovhus / Miles / Vopc / De Billy
Release Date: 10/30/2007 
Label:  Tdk   Catalog #: OPCARLOS  
Composer:  Giuseppe Verdi
Performer:  Iano TamarCornelia SaljeBenedikt KobelNadja Michael,   ... 
Conductor:  Bertrand De Billy
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna State Opera ChorusVienna State Opera Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Giuseppe Verdi
(unabridged original version, 1867)

Philippe II, roi d'Espagne – Alastair Miles
Don Carlos, infant d'Espagne – Ramón Vargas
Rodrigue, marquis de Posa – Bo Skovhus
Le Grand Inquisiteur – Simon Yang
Un moine – Dan Paul Dumitrescu
Elisabeth de Valois – Iano Tamar
La princesse Eboli – Nadja Michael
Thibault, page d'Elisabeth – Cornelia Salje
Le comte de Lerme – Benedikt Kobel

Vienna State Opera Chorus
Vienna State Opera Orchestra
Bertrand de Billy, conductor

Peter Konwitschny, stage director

Recorded at the Vienna State Opera, October 2004

Read more Format: NTSC 16:9 anamorphic
Sound Format: LPCM Stereo / Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Region Code: 0 (All Regions)
Subtitle Languages: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish
Booklet Languages: English, French, German
Running Time: 247 min
No. of DVDs: 2

There were apparently as many boos as bravos in Vienna when this production was unveiled, and many viewers/listeners will be annoyed at Peter Konwitschny's deconstruction of the opera. But few will deny its collective emotional effect and all will be pleased to have a document of Verdi's original French version, without the cuts he made immediately before the opera's premiere.

Here is what you get: No scenery except for white boxes with low doors in them for entrances and exits (black for the Fontainebleau scene, inexplicably), giving the whole affair an antiseptic feel and not allowing our attention to stray for a moment from the characters; period costumes (by Johannes Leiacker, who also is responsible for the sets) save for present-day evening clothes for the Auto-da-fé. This last begins in the lobby of the Vienna State Opera house, with TV cameras filming it and the cast as they enter while the in-house audience watches it on a large TV screen.

It is nothing if not surprising, but it can't compare with the Ballet sequence: Irony piled on deeply, we are shown something called "Eboli's Dream", a '50s style TV show in which Eboli, visibly pregnant in her suburban home, is married to Carlos, a businessman, complete with briefcase. Philip and Elisabeth arrive for dinner, with gifts for the baby. Eboli burns the chicken dinner so they order in from Posa's Pizza. This bit of insight into Eboli's fixation with Carlos is better than any ballet I've ever seen in an opera house and is a sheer delight. Out-of-place? What place?

You get the absurdist points by now, I'm sure, and they can be wildly disconcerting. But where Konwitschny does not play tricks is with the characters' feelings. In the first act Carlos and Elisabeth play around like a couple of kids who have just fallen for one another; Carlos even does a bit of a Spanish dance when he tells Elisabeth where he's from. The friendship between Carlos and Posa is so clear and so real that they have a physical familiarity with one another, like brothers (sorry--no homoeroticism here). Carlos has a tantrum when he sees Elisabeth and Philip are married.

The fourth act, with Philip normally alone in his study, has him deliver his monolog with Eboli still in their bed (on the floor); Eboli remains while the blind Grand Inquisitor and Philip have their verbal duel. Charles the V lets us know precisely who he is early on, and in the opera's closing moments he slaps Philip across the face before spiriting Carlos and Elisabeth away, through the omnipresent white boxes. You may remain bothered by the gimmickry, but the end product is shattering.

Musically, the performance is well-served if not Golden Age. It is lighter in hue than we're accustomed to--Verdi's Paris orchestration is more transparent than the Italian--and Bertrand de Billy leads a performance designed to stress the opera's intimacies with only the Auto-da-fé played for bombast. The voices are all lightish as well.

Ramon Vargas, a true bel cantist, turns in the finest Carlos since the young Carreras, and he acts the part of the confused youth well. Alastair Miles lacks the weight that, say, Ghiaurov brought to the role, but that allows the King's vulnerability--easily as interesting as his ferocity--to be highlighted. And he sings the role with great nuance.

Nadja Michael's Eboli is a figure to be reckoned with--half way through "O don fatal" she slashes her face with a piece of broken mirror, an act that goes well with her tigress-like personality--and her rich mezzo never fails her. Bo Skovhus, sporting a stupid-looking ponytail and silly glasses, is an entirely sympathetic Posa, standing up to Philip in their (extended) confrontation and exhibiting a lovely legato in his death scene. Iano Tamar is a true Verdian soprano and a fine actress; her voice may not have the stamp of stardom but she lives and breathes the part of Elisabeth. Simon Yang is an Inquisitor you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley. In all, the musical preparation is superb.

Recorded at the Vienna State Opera in 2004, sound and picture are superb; all three stereo formats are available. Subtitles are provided in all European languages. This view of the opera is unexpected to say the least, but what is most interesting about it is not the manner in which it jars, but in the ways it rings true. It's clearly for the adventurous; most will prefer the Pappano (with Mattila and Alagna on Kultur) in French, or the Met's (with Freni, Domingo, and Levine) in Italian. But this one is textually unique and, well, very thought-provoking indeed.

--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

Don Carlos by Giuseppe Verdi
Performer:  Iano Tamar (Soprano), Cornelia Salje (Soprano), Benedikt Kobel (Tenor),
Nadja Michael (Mezzo Soprano), Ramón Vargas (Tenor), Bo Skovhus (Baritone),
Simon Yang (Bass), Alastair Miles (Bass), Dan Paul Dumitrescu (Bass)
Conductor:  Bertrand De Billy
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna State Opera Chorus,  Vienna State Opera Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1867/1886 
Date of Recording: 10/2004 
Venue:  Vienna State Opera 

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