Verdi: Don Carlos

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Verdi
LABELS: Arthaus Musik
WORKS: Don Carlos
PERFORMER: Ramón Vargas, Iano Tamar, Nadja Michael, Bo Skovhus, Alastair Miles, Simon Yang, Dam Paul Dumitrescu, Cornelia Salje, Benedikt Kobel; Chorus & Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera/Bertrand de Billy; dir. Peter Konwitschny (Vienna, 2004)
CATALOGUE NO: 107 187 (NTSC system; dts 5.1; 16:9 picture format)

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Two distinct, utterly contradictory approaches to Verdi’s greatest French opera – his greatest opera, many would insist – are evident in this Vienna State Opera production. The first is to the music itself, which is faithful in the extreme. Vienna on this occasion insisted on giving every note of the seldom-revived original (1867) Paris version, including the cut passages rediscovered (by Andrew Porter) 100 years later.

The immensely long score is tirelessly sustained, sung in acceptable-to-good French by a soberly impressive non-francophone cast – its outstanding members the lyrically graceful, openhearted Ramón Vargas and leanly expressive Alastair Miles as warring son-prince and father-king, and Nadja Michael’s attractive, exciting Eboli – and wonderfully well delivered by orchestra and chorus under Bertrand de Billy’s alert, disciplined baton. An admirable, important achievement.

The second is to the opera’s staging, and very different. This, indeed, in its unfaithfulness to the letter and detail of the Du Locle-Méry libretto, proves to be a classic piece of contemporary German Regietheater. It’s by Peter Konwitschny, one of the most talked-about current practitioners, and all the accoutrements are there: the bare box set, the across-the-centuries costuming (Posa wears glasses because he’s an intellectual), the uninhibited rolling on the floor, the ‘third persons’ added to such scenes as King Philip’s and Queen Elisabeth’s big soliloquies, and so on.

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What lent the show particular notoriety was Konwitschny’s staging of Verdi’s 1867 ballet music as Eboli’s 1970s ‘domestic dream’, and an auto-da-fé streamed into the auditorium from the foyers and decked with Nazi-era imagery. Much of the show’s theatrical language today seems stale when not maddening or simply ridiculous; on the other hand each principal character comes vividly to life in a way that doesn’t always happen in more text-faithful Grand Opera performances. Max Loppert