Verdi: Don Carlos

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Verdi
LABELS: Opera Rara
ALBUM TITLE: Verdi
WORKS: Don Carlos
PERFORMER: Soloists; Brno JanáΩek Opera Chorus & Orchestra/Frantisek Jílek
CATALOGUE NO: ORCV 305 Reissue (1972)
This is the recording of the first performance ever of Verdi’s longest and perhaps his greatest opera, given before a small invited audience in 1972 and broadcast in 1973. Andrew Porter, leading Verdi scholar, had found in the late 1960s many pages of the score which had been stuck together at Verdi’s behest to shorten an opera which had got out of hand. There is about an hour’s more music here than we had heard before, including a lengthy and yet not particularly distinguished ballet. Some of these cuts one wouldn’t want to be without, while others would have best remained unopened. Normally we hear the Italian translation, but it’s sung here in French, thankfully by a francophone cast.

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This Opera Rara box is the most lavishly presented CD set I have ever seen, with excellent packaging, and a 304 pages-long book(let). The cast is, however, worthy without being for the most part distinguished. And the advantage of their singing in French is reduced by the echo-chamber in which they were recorded, or the effects of which have been added. Often the singers sound as if they’re at the back of a cavern. Matheson’s conducting is often rum-ti-tum and for all the merits of the BBC Concert Orchestra, it does sound a bit puny. Wiser to go for the recording, also in French, under Pappano, with Alagna and Mattila, among other stars. The recent Orfeo recording, reviewed in January, has slightly less satisfactory conducting from Bertrand de Billy, for all its virtues. Michael Tanner