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Verdi: Don Carlo
Giuseppe Verdi, Claudio Abbado, La Scala Theater Orchestra
Verdi: Don Carlo
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (41) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (17) - Disc #2
  •  Track Listings (15) - Disc #3


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CD Reviews

Absolute perfection!
tenor_in_training | 02/25/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This is a rare occurrence when even the critics agree - this IS the best Don Carlo available. First, the score: it is the five-act version, which includes all the music Verdi wrote for this opera, except for the ballet which does not really add to the action and can be found on other CDs. While the composer was later satisfied with the four-act abridged "action-packed" version and even wrote that it would be "more practical [...] and better from artistic point of view", we the fans want to hear as much of our favorite composer as possible. Those agreeing with Verdi's statement can find a fantastic recording with many of the same principals under Karajan's baton on EMI. But they would sorely miss the Fontainebleau scene. This is a live recording but one hardly notices it, the sound is very well balanced, there are no annoying coughs, and the clarity is exceptional. Claudio Abbado revels in orchestral beauty of the score, but never does his orchestra overwhelm the singers. Those looking for um-pa-pa style of conducting will not find it here; the broad and colorful palette, highlighted by warm strings and clear wind sound is a marvel. The principal and even supporting roles are brilliantly cast; it seems as each artist was "born" to sing his or her particular role. José Carreras is a powerful, heroic, simply dashing Don Carlos, his natural gift for romantic singing setting him strikingly apart (and above) even from such greats as Corelli and Vickers. We have come to expect the ethereal beauty of Carreras's love duets, and it will come as a surprise to many that his fortissimo notes are that strong, particularly without the benefit of studio settings. They are clear and ringing, engagingly projected forward, yet never loosing that splendid glowing timbre that characterizes all of his singing. He is accompanied by artists of equal vocal grace and appeal. Mirella Freni's angelic voice can take commanding and regal overtones, and at the same time she comes across as subtle and vulnerable heroine, a very sympathetic character. No wonder Ms. Freni could be so wonderful as Verdi's most beloved leading lady - Aida. Lately, several recordings and performances featured a spinto soprano as Elisabetta. I am not the one to say what's right or wrong, but to me only a voice such as Freni's (or Caballé's) can be effective in the final duet, interrupted by Philips's thunderous "Si, per sempre! " Speaking of Philip, this set has the best one that ever was - Nicolai Ghiaurov. I am a huge fan of the Bulgarian bass who prefers to stay away from spotlight, and after listening to his breathtaking "Ella giammai m'amò" you will be too, I am certain. Following the beautifully played introduction, he opens one of the best basso arias slower than usual, emphasizing the lyrical aspects of it, truly immersed in King's sincere love for Elisabetta and his sincere sorrow; but then he is all grim resolve and relentless fury, subsiding again into hurt and regret. I had to listen to it several times over - it's spellbinding. Baritone Piero Cappuccilli is one of the finest masters of Verdian line; his legato passages are flawless and his powerful voice is ideal for heroic Rodrigo. He has a show-stopping death scene, which he delivers with impeccable style, no gasps, no snarling, just warm, beautiful, heartbreaking sound. He and Carreras deliver a fantastic Friendship duet, readily resembling the one of Merrill and Bjorling. Elena Obraztsova, a Bolshoi Star, got lots of applause during this performance. For one, she has the highly spirited Bolero and then it's off to "O don fatale". Her Eboli is very unusual, almost masculine is sound, with powerful chest resonance, no vulnerability or even doubt there. She clearly brings out Eboli's "bad side" so to speak. A more charming Eboli can be found on Karajan's set - Agnes Baltsa, and Giulini's - Verett. But for strong, darkly seductive portrayal turn to Obraztsova. Finally Evgeny Nesterenko, another Bolshoi star, is cast here as the Grand Inquisitor. He is a very fine bass, no doubt, but he has to sing opposite Ghiaurov and he just does not seem as all-powerful as Philip describes him to Rodrigo. On recordings now not available, this role was taken up by Martti Talvela, and the ocean of sound he and Ghiaurov awoke together literally shook the house down. Interestingly, in 1985 Claudio Abbado cast Ghiaurov in this role for his DG recording of French version. Having said all that, I think Nesterenko is a solid commanding Inquisitor still, with wonderful breath span and booming low F. Overall, this is more than just impressive recording. Despite the fact that it's live, it's the very best. Maybe it can be surpassed in the future, I am certainly looking forward to that, but it has not been equaled as of yet in terms of drama, vocal luster, and absolute dedicated and affectionate involvement from all the artists."
My favorite recording of Don Carlo
The Cultural Observer | 02/14/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Don Carlo is one of the most difficult operas to stage successfully. The opera was one of Verdi's most magnificently orchestrated scores, and the shift in moods and moments definitely behold a challenge for any conductor as one needs to be melancholic, graceful, seductive, elegant, elegiac, and full of panache when leading the orchestra in this massive masterpiece. Spanning at least three hours, even when shortened to the Milanese four act version, it is perhaps Verdi's longest opera. The Five-act version is even better, and with that first act added, it has the potential to reach Wagnerian lengths minus the extended moments due to Verdi's dramatic genius. The opera requires five excellent singers with gigantic voices (six, if you include the Grand Inquisitor as a lead role)--Don Carlo, Elisabetta, Rodrigo de Posa, Filippo II, and Eboli. The vocal writing is extremely difficult due to the number of players sawing in the orchestra pit, but when a magnificent cast carries off a performance, Don Carlo is grand opera at its finest.

I reviewed a studio recording earlier with Solti as conductor and Tebaldi and Bergonzi spearheading a magnificent cast that includes Grace Bumbry (magnificent!) and Nicolai Ghiaurov. While I heap much praise on that recording for its magnificent colors and the titanic singing coming from the cast, I think Don Carlo is even more exciting when executed well in the theater. However, due to the difficulties of finding a perfect cast to sing the five main roles, the opera has had several nights of misses at the theater. There are four live performances of Don Carlo which I particularly Opera d'Oro recording with Caballe, Domingo, and Cossotto, an Abbado recording from 1978 with Domingo and Margaret Price, the French EMI release with Alagna, Mattila, and Pappano, and this...perhaps the best Don Carlo ever released.

There are several reasons for me to recommend this Don Carlo as an essential set to anyone's library. First and foremost, I don't think there has been a better Verdi conductor since Claudio Abbado, with the exception of Serafin and Muti, of course. The drive and the poetry that ignites the passion in this opera is all there, and Abbado during this evening has a synthesis of the best of Giulini, Karajan, Muti, Solti, and Serafin combined. The cast is nothing short of magnificent. I believe Mirella Freni is perhaps the best soprano to take on the part of Elisabetta. Her youthful and beautiful tone, control of dynamics, and sensitive and perfect phrasing make her the ideal queen, heads and shoulders above Tebaldi and Caballe. Her vocal acting is regal, and her legato is superb. She is partnered by the Carlo of Jose Carreras, perhaps the most sensitive and poetic singer to have sung the part onstage. His voice is splendid too, possessing a lovely-legato-Italianate quality and a musicality that neither Domingo, Pavarotti, Vickers, nor Corelli ever had. His passionate singing makes him a stronger contender over Carlo Bergonzi (who in my opinion still has the perfect voice for the role despite his rare lack of involvement). His friend, Rodrigo de Posa, is taken by Piero Cappuccilli, perhaps one of the greatest Verdi baritones of all time. His singing here is fueled by the atmosphere of La Scala, and never before have I heard a more effective Posa. He is even better than Milnes and Fischer-Dieskau. Nicolai Ghiaurov is the king, and this recording is the one that perhaps finds him at the peak of his vocal production and understanding of the role. His third-act monologue, his conversations with Posa and Carlo, and the chilling scene with the sonorous Inquisitor of Nesterenko, is perhaps one of the many highlights of this disc. A reference performance for a Filippo who took this assumption to several great performances (recorded and live) all over the world. There are some people who say that the weak link in this cast is the Eboli of Obraztsova. I think she gives it an aggressive lustiness that gives her princess a character that so many mezzos can ruin with their bland singing of this beautifully done demented role.

In short, this is a Don Carlo that combines the best elements of grand opera in what is perhaps one of the most exciting nights at La Scala. My recommendation? Buy it!"
A fine memento of what must have been a great evening at La
Ralph Moore | Bishop's Stortford, UK | 09/06/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)

"It's a pleasure to come late to an opera recording and find already posted on several detailed, intelligent reviews from informed people who write cogently and persuasively. I find myself in agreement with most of what has been said already and even appreciate the reasons why the "Voice Lover" awards only three tepid stars; much of what he says is true. This leaves me less to say, other than to comment on a few issues. I agree that the sound is a bit woolly and lacking definition; it's not at all bad for a live recording but not as clear as other comparable live sets such as the 1967 Vienna performance conducted by Stein, the 1972 Metropolitan broadcast conducted by Molinari-Pradelli (both with Corelli and in clean mono), or, above all for live sound, the 1992 La Scala set with Pavarotti, conducted by Muti - but the latter is only the four act version. There is no doubt that the singing, playing and conducting here is first rate but perhaps the muddy sound contributes to a certain lack of sparkle; just occasionally there is a hint of dullness in the proceedings. However, I don't think I have heard Freni sing better; her beautiful lirico-spinto soprano is ideal for conveying the quiet desperation of the hapless Elisabetta. She manages to suggest "les larmes dans la voix" without ever sounding maudlin and she has sufficient power to phrase broadly and grandly. Carreras is in his best pre-1980 form, plangent and affecting, although his reluctance to sing quietly and a tendency to push might be pointing forward to future difficulties. Obratsova really is such a ham; that big, booming voice is suggestive more of a harridan than a seductress who could have caught the eye of a refined, sensitive monarch, but her voice is undeniably handsome and thrilling in a crude kind of way - and she can actually sing all the notes, unlike some Ebolis (although she runs out of breath at the climax of "O don fatale"). Nesterenko is not especially idiomatic as the Grand Inquisitor; he goes through a strange, strained, semi-parlando patch in the famous exchange with Philip and pales beside interpreters such as Talvela or Hines. Cappuccilli is as he always is: dependable and nobly long-breathed without any special insights or beauty of tone - and as with Obratsova, there is more than a whiff of ham about some of his artistic choices - though the audience likes him. Ghiaurov successfully reprises his most famous role but you can hear him sing just as well in several comparable recordings, especially the studio Solti set.

In short, for reasons of sound and the performances of individual artists, I am happy to have this La Scala recording as the most complete five Act version of "Don Carlo" available (including the great extended ensemble lamenting Rodrigo in Act 4, using the same music as in the "Requiem"), but more as an adjunct to other sets. It does not replace favourite recordings such as those mentioned above, the Giulini, the Haitink, the live Salzburg Karajan performance or even the two old Santini studio recordings."