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Giuseppe Verdi - Don Carlo
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DON CARLO (VERSION MODENA, 1886)
TEATRO COMUNALE LUCIANO PAVAROTTI MODENA, OCTOBER 2012
GIACOMO PRESTIA, MARIO MALAGNINI, SIMONE PIAZZOLA, LUCIANO MONTANARO, CELLIA COSTEA, ALLA POZNIAK
CORO LIRICO AMADEUS FONDAZIONE TEATRO COMUNALE DI MODENA, ORCHESTRA REGIONALE DELL´EMILIA-ROMAGNA
STAGED BY JOSEPH FRANCONI LEE
C Majors Tutto Verdi project comes to one of Verdis most popular operas: Don Carlo.
This production from Teatro Comunale Luciano Pavarotti Modena is conducted by Fabrizio Ventura. He has performed at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden as well as the Arena di Verona and the Sydney Opera House.
The cast is led Giacomo Presita who has performed with some of the worlds greatest conductors including Abbado, Mehta, Muti, Gatti and Barenboim. He is supported by Mario Malagnini and Cellia Costea.
PICTURE: 16:9, HD
SOUND: DVD: DTS 5.1, PCM STEREO | BD: DTS-HD MA 5.1, PCM 2.0
RUNNING TIME: TOTAL: 184 MINUTES (OPERA: 173 MINUTES, BONUS: 11 MINUTES)
SUBTITLES: ITALIAN (ORIGINAL LANGUAGE), ENGLISH, GERMAN, FRENCH, SPANISH, CHINESE, KOREAN, JAPANESE BONUS: ENGLISH, ITALIAN
Teatro Comunale Luciano Pavarotti Modena, October 2012
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And it's an opera Verdi never finished. Even before the Paris premiere in March 1867, Verdi was revising his original score. An Italian translation of the five-act French version was prepared immediately and presented the same month in Bologna. Dissatisfied, Verdi issued a new Italian Don Carlo in 1872, another in 1884, then yet another in 1886. Practically every performance was a revision, as producers and directors chose which scenes to include or omit. Instead of ever declaring a definitive version, Verdi decided to leave it alone and take up Otello.
On a single all-regions Blu-ray, the Tutto Verdi Don Carlo provides the five-act Modena version -- first presented in that city in 1886 -- appropriately staged in Modena, Pavarotti's hometown and gravesite. In the text here, omitted are the opening chorus of French woodcutters and the first entrance of Elisabetta, daughter of Henry II of France, showing her sympathy for her people who suffer from the war with Spain, at that time the most powerful kingdom in the Western world. (The phrase, "The empire on which the sun never sets," was first applied to Spain's Philip II, indicating the vast dominion over which he ruled.) The action commences with Carlo in the forest of Fountainebleu, hearing the hunting horns, then seeing Elisabetta, to whom he has been betrothed as part of the 1558 peace pact between the two nations. While not significant musically, this initial scene more fully explains why Elisabetta consents to Philip as a husband instead of Carlo, denying her personal happiness for that of her countrymen.
In addition, the Modena performance employs the Act III prelude, with its reference to the idyllic Fountainebleu scene, and omits the costume exchange between Elisabetta and Eboli, in which Eboli dons a veil to disguise her identity when she goes to the assignation with Carlo. The duet late in Act IV between Philip and Carlo, which incorporates a theme Verdi used in the Lacrymosa of the Requiem, is cut, but Eboli appears urging Carlo to flee after Posa has been killed. This small, apparently insignificant scene follows through on Eboli's promise at the close of "O don fatale" to help Carlo, despite all the turmoil she has caused.
When the ambiguous figure of Philip's father, Charles V, emerges from the tomb in Act V, Carlo disappears in the vague darkness of the back of the stage instead of being embraced by his grandfather and carried to safety. And the conclusion -- which Verdi created for the bowdlerized four-act revision of 1884 -- is a loud reprise of the monks' music from the beginning of Act II. Other five-act productions, such as the one from Salzburg Don Carlo [Blu-ray], use the more appropriate, hushed closing.
Modena furnishes lavish, colorful, period costumes for the principals, chorus, and extras. In contrast, the opening sets of unvarnished scaffolding give the look of a work in progress instead of a finished grand opera, even though more elaborate stage elements are added as the action develops. Whether by accident or design, this scaffolding -- which remains exposed throughout -- serves as a metaphor of the opera's unfinished nature. The fully developed characters, in rich apparel, inhabit a raw, faulty matrix that represents the incomplete lives they live.
As for the principals, the two women are magnificent. Beautiful Romanian soprano Cellia Costea not only looks the part (as both the young and the more mature Elisabetta) but also sings wonderfully. Only Marina Poplavskaya with the Royal Opera House Don Carlo: Live From the Royal Opera House is as impressive. Costea's acting is refined. The very nature of Elisabetta's deal with the devil forces any actress into a certain amount of reserve in the role, but Costea can let the sparks fly, as she does in her Act II meeting with Carlo -- "Hurry to kill your father, and then, splattered with his blood, you can lead your mother to the altar!" -- and in her climactic Act IV confrontation with Eboli, in which the adulteress is reduced to assuming the veil of the convent. Although it doesn't come until the start of Act V after a long three hours, Costea's big aria, "Tu che le vanità," shows no hint of fatigue. Alone on stage, Elisabetta steps out from behind the figurative veil with which she has concealed her true emotions through the course of her life. Costea rips the heartstrings as she implores, "If they still weep in heaven, weep over my sorrow and carry my tears to the throne of the Lord," and soars as she recalls, "Fountainebleu. Toward you my thoughts spread their wings." The final catch in her throat ... devastating.
As both actress and singer, Ukrainian mezzo Alla Pozniak is an engaging, dynamic Eboli. The trills in her Veil Song are to die for. Her explosive reaction to Carlo's scorn in Act III is utterly believable. In the clash with Elisabetta in Act IV, Pozniak rises even higher. "O don fatale" is tremendous.
The male singers reveal the unevenness of the Modena recording. At age 60 when this was filmed, Mario Malagnini is too old to pass for the youthful Carlo. He doesn't have a bad voice, although it's not the richest tenor. Unfortunately, he's a wooden actor and seems to possess only one facial expression, no matter what he's singing. Beside Malagnini, young Simone Piazzola as Rodrigo looks more like Carlo's grandson than his best friend. Piazzola sings well enough, but his unseasoned acting cannot compensate for the age-inappropriate pairing. Luciano Montanaro's Grand Inquisitor is passable, but nowhere close to Eric Halfvarson, who owns the role (in both the ROH and Salzburg productions).
The star among the male cast is bass Giacomo Prestia as Philip. To go along with a commanding stage presence, he has the full vocal complement the part demands, plus the emotional range to pour into the acting. I thought Ferruccio Furlanetto was the be-all, end-all of Philips, and he still holds the edge; but Prestia's delivery of "Ella giammai m'amò" is every bit the show-stopper it should be, and the audience roars.
The Modena chorus performs outstandingly in Act IV's auto-da-fé. The orchestra, conducted by Fabrizio Venture, plays quite well throughout, but one notable oddity occurs. Rather than opening Act IV with a cello solo (perfectly depicting Philip's aloneness), the entire cello section is employed. Because the soloist's tempo is ad lib, trying to force several cellists to play in strict time is not so effective.
None of the video recordings of Don Carlo is completely satisfactory. The ROH production omits the woodcutters scene, the women's costume exchange, and Eboli's arrival at the close of Act IV. Also, it uses the loud ending and adds a conclusion not present in any of Verdi's revisions -- before he can be rescued by Charles V, Carlo is fatally stabbed and dies in Elisabetta's arms! The Salzburg Blu-ray contains more of Verdi's music and thus has a longer running time but still offers a sharper video image and fuller sound than Modena's. Salzburg includes the opening scene of the woodcutters, Elisabetta's and Eboli's exchanging apparel at the start of Act III, and employs the hushed ending, but cuts Eboli's urging Carlo to flee at the end of Act IV. The huge, mostly empty Salzburg stage, however, looks more barren than the unfinished scaffolding used at Modena.
For myself, I'm glad to have all three recordings. Put the best elements of them together, and you arrive at a rounded vision of Verdi's great unfinished masterpiece. It's worth the investment.
The Don Carlo of Mario Malagnini was disappointing. He is too long in his career to be playing that part of the young infante. Of all my recordings, Roberto Alagna and Jose Cararras come closest to being convincing and about the right age. Mr. Malagnini is a good singer but no actor. He holds his beloved in his arms and while she sings he looks around to see who else is there. Simone Piazzolo is a fine Verdi baritone, is young and somewhat inexperienced but developed as the performance moved along. Yes this recoring is a composite of several performances. Apparently he got better as the season progressed. As the other reviwers mentioned, I also did not like the Grand Inquisitor; I've heard some Bulgarian and Russian basses declame it so you'd "quake in your boot". Mr. Montanaro sounded as menacing as a train conductor and was off key. For the most part the orchestra played well under the baton of Fabrizio Ventura and sounded like they had rehearsed enough.
Alla Pozniak was a voluptuous voiced Eboli (what happened to the eye patch?) and agile enough to do justice to the veil song and resounding enough to do a gripping "O don fatale". And she can act too.
Costumes were quite impressive, sets for the most part not there. No one burned in the auto de fe. Whatever happened to "Grand Opera?"