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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Don Carlo (1867-86)
Filippo II - Giacomo Prestia (bass)
Don Carlo - Mario Malagnini (tenor)
Rodrigo - Simone Piazzola (baritone)
Il Grande Inquisitore - Luciano Montanaro (bass)
Un Frate - Paolo Buttol (bass)
Elisabetta di Valois - Cellia Costea (soprano)
Il Principessa Eboli - Alla Posniak (soprano)
Tebaldo - Irène Candelier (soprano)
Il Conte di Lerma - Giulio Pelligea (tenor)
Un Araldo Reale - Marco Gaspari (bass)
Una voce dal cielo - Irène Candelier
Coro Lirico Amadeus
Fondazione Teatro Communale di Modena
Orchestra Regionale dell’Emilia Romagna/Fabrizio Ventura
Video director: Tiziano Mancini
rec. 15, 17, 19, 21 October 2012, Teatro Communale, Modena
Sound Format: PCM Stereo & DTS 5.1 [DVD], PCM Stereo & DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 [Blu-ray]; Picture Format 16:9 [DVD & Blu-ray], 1080i [Blu-ray only]; Region Worldwide
Subtitles in Italian, English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Japanese:
Reviewed in surround.
C MAJOR 724608 724704 [215:00]

The creation of Don Carlos dragged on for some twenty years. First performed in French at the Paris Opéra on 11 March 1867, it soon made its way in an Italian translation to the Teatro Comunale in Bologna in October, when the title became Don Carlo. In 1872 this same Italian version was given at the San Carlo in Naples with some modifications by Verdi himself. In Vienna the opera was performed with numerous cuts because it was judged too long, and even in Italy many wished for a shorter version. In 1882 the composer therefore decided to review it with more radical changes in mind. In collaboration with his librettists Camille Du Locle and Charles-Louis Nuitter, many modifications were made, while Angelo Zanardini was brought in to translate the new version into Italian. After many months of intense work, the four act version of Don Carlos was performed at La Scala in Milan on 10 January 1884. Finally, two years later, a five act Italian version approved by Verdi was given at Modena. It is this version that features on the present recording, which fittingly enough emanates from the same theatre at Modena, the Fondazione Teatro Communale.
 
In whichever version, Don Carlos contains some of Verdi’s greatest music, and some of his most subtle musical characterisation. Although its events are far removed from historical fact, they provide the kind of scenes at which the composer excelled, with complex characters whose personal lives are caught up by forces larger than themselves.
 
The production has abundant atmosphere and always appeals to the eye, even if there is no forest at Fontainebleau in the first act. The singing is uniformly good, and particular praise can be directed towards Giacomo Prestia as King Philip, Luciano Montanaro as the Grand Inquisitor and Cellia Costea as Elizabeth of Valois. Mario Malagnini is a noble Don Carlo, but the recording of his voice is sometimes edgy, in the first act especially. The singers are all independently miked and perhaps there was a slight problem with the technology.
 
Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa, who manages to be both Carlos’s friend and the King’s confidant while at the same time his political adversary, is a character drawn with the utmost musical subtlety. Simone Piazzola sings the role more than adequately, but his appearance on stage is marred by the hat drawn at an angle across his eye, which makes him look like a cross between Wotan and a railway porter. It is a great relief when towards the end of the opera the hat is removed.
 
Alla Pozniak as Eboli dominates the stage during her ensembles and if her voice is less stable in pitch this has much to do with the nature of the character’s vocal writing, with its tendency towards coloratura. The chorus makes a reliable impression throughout and the ensembles are handled well both dramatically and musically. Fabrizio Ventura’s conducting brings much experience to bear upon proceedings, and there is a palpable sense of teamwork and commitment.
 
With the obvious exception of Rodrigo’s hat, the costumes are splendid, and nowhere more so than in the scene of Princess Eboli and the ladies of the court.
 
The great scene of the auto-da-fe, the biggest ensemble in the opera, is taken with slow tempi, which while missing some potential intensity, at least brings the benefit of helping with the articulation of the text. The lighting of this scene is splendidly effective, so too the use of the stage space for deploying the large forces.
 
Recorded across four performances, the production looks appropriate at every stage, and the presence of an audience is not unduly obtrusive. The production team take a bow at the end and receive a deserved ovation. Their success owes a great deal to the highly effective lighting which is brilliantly captured by the excellent Blu-ray image, while that on DVD is satisfactory though less spectacular in its impact. The same might be said of the sound: outstanding on Blu-ray, highly satisfactory on DVD. Proof of the success visually is that even when the stage is darkened, it is still possible to see detail.
 
The menus are more easily accessed on the DVD version than on Blu-ray, though once again it is depressing to report that snippets of music are played during the process of accessing the opera. What on earth is the point of this?
 
This issue is well documented with an essay and synopsis, and the disc includes a very useful introduction to the opera done in such a way that should appeal to the connoisseur and the novice alike - no mean feat. Indeed, this sets a standard that one might wish for elsewhere. There are fifty cue points on the single Blu-ray disc, and these same cues are spread across the two DVDs. The subtitles are well synchronised and as usual placed at the bottom of the screen but unusually, while sensibly moving occasionally to the top when the action demands it. This is a commendable ploy which deserves high praise.
 
In whichever version, this opera places Verdi alongside Mozart and Wagner in depth and detail of musical characterisation. While this recording from Modena does not feature any international superstars, both the presentation standards and the performance itself are admirably focused on achieving the highest standards possible. A firm and enthusiastic welcome is therefore in order.
 
Terry Barfoot & Dave Billinge

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