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Giuseppe VERDI
Don Carlos

(Original Five Act French Version)
Don Carlos: Roberto Alagna, ten
Rodrigue: Thomas Hampson, bar
Elisabeth de Valois: Karita Mattila, sop
Philippe II: José Van Dam, bass
Princess Eboli: Waltraud Meier, mezzo-sop
Grand Inquisitor: Eric Halfvarson, bass
Monk - Charles V: Csaba Airizer, bass
Thibault: Anat Efraty, sop
Voice from Heaven: Donna Brown, sop
Le Comte de Lerme: Scot Weir, ten
Choeur de Théàtre du Châtelet
Orchestre de Paris/Antonio Pappano
Stage Director: Luc Bondy

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The stars were well aligned when this production was staged at the Théàtre du Châtelet in Paris during March of 1996, when it was recorded live for this DVD. To have this many major stars together, all of them fine singing actors, in one place at one time was already remarkable. But to combine them in a major Verdi opus, staged by famed filmmaker Luc Bondy and conducted by one of the hottest young talents in the pit today, deserved the attention it received.

It was also an important, and rare, opportunity for opera lovers to see Don Carlos as it was performed at its world premiere, in the five-act version and in the original French language. French taste at the time demanded operas of elaborate display, and with ballets, according to the traditions established by Meyerbeer. These over-long evenings at the opera were pared down in subsequent Italian productions and it was the remarkable music of the first act which was usually jettisoned in its entirety. Modern recordings of Don Carlo have restored this fine music but French language versions are still rare so this production fills an important void in the Verdian repertory.

Of the current stars of the opera stage, this recording has the crème of the crop. In the title role, French tenor Roberto Alagna is in fine voice and displays all of the necessary ardour and youthful passion, both vocally and dramatically. While not probably destined to be one of the legendary Verdi tenors, he is at the top rank of those who sing these roles today. Soprano Karita Mattila, however, as Elisabeth, is moving in the direction of legendary status and, for many, has already reached it. The wonderful vocal gifts she possesses are complemented by a fine acting sense. Her involvement in her character and uncanny ability to shape a vocal line to this purpose makes her enchanting in this role.

Baritone José Van Dam, for many years among the pantheon of legendary stars, delivers a strong and convincing Philippe II. His Act IV aria "Elle ne m'aime pas" should be studied by all aspiring Verdi bass-baritones. It is a textbook example of how richness and beauty of sound, combined with a passionate, nuanced delivery, can create magic in the theatre. Mezzo Waltraud Meier is in full command as Princess Eboli and her "O don fatal" can also be used as a reference. Thomas Hampson, one of the leading baritones on the opera stage today, delivers a powerful performance as Rodrigue and his important scenes with Alagna have particular resonance. These five principals, along with a menacing Eric Halfvarson as the Grand Inquisitor, are all talented, attractive singers at the top of their form. Their acting, as guided by the equally gifted director, Luc Bondy, makes for exceptional theatre.

The simple sets, by Gilles Aillaud, and the costumes, by Moidele Bickel, all done in chilly blues and blacks, emphasise the austere court of the King of Spain. Bondy directs the action in a clear, uncomplicated way that serves the unfolding drama and adds power to the production. Antonio Pappano, now the Musical Director designate at the Royal Opera, delivers his usual high-horsepower performance with an absence of sentiment and a notable attention to detail. The clarity of the instrumental sections and the force of the attack remind this writer of Sir George Solti's style of conducting.

The only quibble is that the sound quality is not as good as a studio recording would be. This is not surprising given the provenance of the recording at a live series of concerts. There are times, for example, when a singer is not near a microphone. However, the greater immediacy of a live event, for me, makes up for this difference. This DVD is distributed by Warner Music Video and is available at most major outlets. It has the 16/9 format and subtitles are available in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish. In a CD-ROM player, you can access the libretto, articles about this opera, and biographies of the artists. It also has Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo and Dolby Digital 5.0 Surround Sound options.

Frank Cadenhead

The CD-ROM part includes links to

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