Giulini: Verdi - Don Carlo (3 CD box set, APE)
Giulini: Verdi - Don Carlo (3 CD box set, APE)

Orchestra: Covent Garden Orchestra
Conductor: Carlo Maria Giulini
Composer: Giuseppe Verdi
Audio CD
SPARS Code: ADD
Number of Discs: 3 CD box set
Format: APE (image+cue)
Label: BBC
Size: 851 MB
Recovery: +3%
Scan: yes

Filippo II – Boris Christoff
Don Carlo – Jon Vickers
Rodrigo – Tito Gobbi
Il Grande Inquisitore – Michael Langdon
Un Frate – Joseph Rouleau
Elisabetta di Valois – Gre Brouwenstijn
La principessa Eboli – Fedora Barbieri
Tebaldo – Jeannette Sinclair
Una Voce dal Cielo – Ava June
La Contessa D’ Aremberg – Margaret Lensky
Il Conte di Lerma – Edgar Evans
Un Araldo Reale – Robert Allman
Covent Garden Opera Chorus

Disc 1
01. Act I : Su, Cacciator! (Coro)
02. Fontainebeau! (Coro)
03. Io La Vidi E Al Suo Sorriso (Coro)
04. Non Trovo Piu La Via Per Ritornar (Tebardo, Elisabetta, Coro)
05. Di Qual Amor, Di Quant’ardor (Elisabetta, Coro)
06. Al Fedel Ch’ora Viene
07. Act II : Part 1 : Carlo, Il Sommo Imperatore (Coro, Un Frate)
08. Al Chiostro Di San Giusto (Carlo)
09. Il Duolo Della Terra (Il Frate, Carlo)
10. E Lui! Desso…L’infante! (Rodrigo, Carlo)
11. Questo Arcano Dal Re Non Fu Sorpreso Ancora? (Rodrigo, Carlo)
12. Dio, Che Nell’alma Infondere (Carlo, Rodrigo, Coro, Il Frate)
13. Part 2 : Sotto Ai Folti, Immensi Abeti (Coro)
14. Tra Queste Mura Pie (Eboli, Coro)
15. Nel Girandin Del Bello Saracin Ostello (Eboli, Tebaldo, Coro)
16. La Regina! (Coro, Eboli, Elisabetta, Tebaldo, Rodrigo)
17. Che Mai Si Fa Nel Suol Francese (Eboli, Rodrigo, Elisabetta)
18. Io vengo a dormandar grazia alla mia Regina
19. Perduto Ben, Mio Sol Tesor ( Carlo, Elisabetta)
20. Il Re! – Perche Sola E La Regina? (Tebaldo, Filippo, Coro)
21. Non Pianger, Mia Compagna (Elisabetta, Rodrigo, Coro, Filippo)
22. Restate! (Filippo, Rodrigo)
23. O Signor, Di Fiandra Arrivo (Rodrigo, Filippo)
24. Quest’ E La Pace Che Voi Date Al Mondo? (Rodrigo, Filippo)
25. Oso Lo Sguardo Tuo Penetrar Il Mio Soglio (Filippo, Rodrigo)

Disc 2
01. Act III : Part 3 : Preludio
02. A Mezzanotte Ai Giardin Della Regina ( Carlo, Eboli)
03. V’e Ignoto Forse, Ignoto Ancora ( Eboli, Rodrigo, Carlo)
04. Al Mio Furor Sfuggite Invano (Eboli, Rodrigo, Carlo)
05. Ed Io, Che Tremava Al Suo Aspetto! ( Eboli, Rodrigo, Carlo)
06. Trema Per Te, Falso Figliuolo ( EBoli, Rodrigo, Carlo)
07. Carlo, Se Ma Su Te Forgli Important Serbi ( Rodrigo, Carlo)
08. Part 2 : Spuntato Ecco Il Di D’esultanza ( Coro)
09. Marcia
10. Or Si Schiuda La Porta Del Tempio! (Un Araldo Reale, Coro)
11. Nel Posae Sul Mio Capo La Corona (Filippo, Coro, Elisabetta, Rodrigo, Carlo)
12. No, I’ Ora Estrema Ancora Non Suono (Coro, Filippo, Elisabetta, Rodrigo, Carlo)
13. Sire! Egli E Tempo Ch’io Viva (Carlo, Filippo, Elisabette, Rodrigo, Tebaldo)
14. Oh Ciel! Tu, Rodrigo! (Carlo, Coro, Elisabetta, Filippo, Una Voce Dal Cielo)
15. Act IV : Part 1 : Ella Giammai M’ Amo! (Filipppo)
16. Dormiro Sol Nel Manto Mio Regal ( Filippo)
17. Il Grande Inquisitor! (Conte Di Lerma, L’Inquisitore, Filippo)
18. Giustizia, Giustizia Sire! ( Elisabetta, Filippo)
19. Soccorso Alla Regina! (Filippo, Eboli, Rodrigo)
20. Ah! Sii Maledetto, Sospeto Fatale ( Filippo, Eboli, Rodrigo, Elisabetta)
21. Pieta! Perdoni! ( Eboli, Elisabetta)
22. Ah! Piu Non Vedro (Eboli)
23. O Mia Regina, Io T’ Immolai (Eboli)

Disc 3
01. Act IV : Part 4 : Son Io, Mio Carlo (Rodrigo, Carlo)
02. Per Me Giunto E Il Di Supremo (Rodrigo)
03. Che Parli Tu Di Morte? (Carlo, Rodrigo)
04. O Carlo, Ascolta La Madre T’ Aspetta (Rodrigo)
05. Act V : Tu Che Le Vanita Conosceti Del Mondo (Elisabetta)
06. E Dessa! Un Detto, Un Sol, (Carlo, Elisabetta)
07. Ma Lassu Ci Vefremo (Elisabetta, Carlo)
08. Si, Per Sempre! (Filippo, I’ Inquisitore, Carlo, Il Frate)

Time Marches On, But…

A dwindling few of us who listen to this 1958 Covent Garden performance will be able to imagine, let alone claim to recall, a time when Verdi’s DON CARLO/S was an obscurity that begged for special advocacy. No other Verdi opera, not even the 1881 revision of SIMON BOCCANEGRA, came so far in the second half of the twentieth century, and today it would be the odd Verdi buff or academic who does not place CARLO/S near the top of the composer’s life’s work. The decade that set the ball rolling in the CARLO/S renaissance, as it were, was the 1950s, with a revival at the Met and another at Salzburg both playing parts in raising the opera’s profile. The Covent Garden run from which the present recording came was the most influential and legendary production of all. (One listener who names CARLO/S as his favorite Verdi is Lord Harewood, the former director of the ROH and one of those who *can* vividly recall when the opera was all but unknown. The octogenarian sits for a 20-minute interview included as a bonus here, sharing his recollections of conductor Giulini, producer Visconti, and the cast members, most of whom are no longer with us.)

Few operas this side of Offenbach’s LES CONTES D’HOFFMANN (which at least has the excuse of the composer having died before its completion) present as many thorny textual questions and viable performing alternatives as Verdi’s much-revised masterpiece, and one can attend two performances or buy two recordings of CARLO/S and hear very dissimilar things. The edition performed for the Covent Garden audience this night in 1958 was a responsible and even generous edition…for 1958. What we have come to think of as the “real” first act, the one set at Fontainebleau, is included, albeit with a tightening up of the choral celebration at the close. Such time-saving cuts prove typical over the course of the evening, and some are more bothersome than others. Nips and tucks in the ceremonial music of the auto-da-fé scene are almost expected by veteran CARLO/S recording collectors, especially in live performances of this era, but denying Gré Brouwenstijn the second verse of the farewell to the Countess of Aremberg was a miscalculation. A good Elisabetta, and here we have one who was more than good, can achieve one of the evening’s most poignant effects if allowed to savor the repeat in that lovely little piece, with its strange harmonic turns. (And yet there was time for both verses of Eboli’s delightful but dramatically irrelevant Veil Song?) Lord Harewood in his interview says it was Giulini’s decision to cut the entire insurrection scene, a decision with which Lord Harewood disagreed. Act IV thus ends with Rodrigo’s death rattle. As Lord Harewood notes, this deprives us of a scene crucial to the opera’s “church over state” theme — that in which the Inquisitor is able to terrify the rebellious people into submission, whereas they had been fearless in defiance of their king. On a more plot-mechanistic level, not noted by Lord Harewood, it also rather makes nonsense of Eboli’s fiery vow in “O don fatale” to save Carlo, as she disappears from the opera, denied the brief reappearance in which she urges Carlo to flee during the insurrection.

So far I have largely dealt with what is missing. Obviously, anyone with an interest in this recording will have a greater concern with what is there, and what is there is often highly distinguished. If the recording missed the mark in every other respect, it would be worth having for preserving the work of the tenor and soprano, who did not record these roles commercially (in fact, the soprano recorded distressingly little commercially). It is a pleasure to hear Jon Vickers in fresh and youthful vocal estate, and with a directness of utterance that may come as a surprise to those who have listened mainly or only to his later work. I often have felt when listening to his idiosyncratic performances of Verdi (e.g., Radamés for Solti) that I’d rather be hearing him sing Wagner or Britten — not the case here. He is well partnered by Gré Brouwenstijn’s sensitive, suitably patrician Elisabetta. Tito Gobbi remains, in my estimation, dramatically unmatched in the role of Rodrigo. He has nothing like Bastianini’s beauty of tone, nor Cappuccilli’s breath control and ease on high; and in purely technical terms, he does not sing the role nearly as well as they or many others have. Where he leaves them all far behind is in his ability to achieve a balance between the character’s nobility and his fanaticism; to suggest that while there is much good and decent about this character, there is also something a little disturbing. Gobbi’s exquisite subtleties in this role can be tasted elsewhere, but better here than on his EMI commercial recording of the part, done in by the flaccid conducting of one (and thank goodness there was not more than one) Gabriele Santini.

I will confess that Boris Christoff is a taste I have never managed to acquire, least of all in Italian opera — the monotonous phrasing and tendency toward melodramatic overstatement keep me from more than briefly enjoying the arresting timbre — but his fans will be pleased with his performance, and he is more tasteful than could sometimes be the case. As he was the Filippo on *two* sets conducted by the aforementioned Santini, my comment about Gobbi’s commercial recording applies to him too. Michael Langdon’s Grand Inquisitor makes an adequate foil for Christoff, and the Monk/Charles V (Joseph Rouleau) is above-average in a part often entrusted to weak singers. The hardest day at the office is had by the great Fedora Barbieri. It was late in her career, this role lay too high for her in any event, and she simply cannot sing the opera’s biggest crowd-pleaser, “O don fatale,” without omitting a fistful of high notes. To actually hear that aria sung properly, one must turn to Verrett, Cossotto, Bumbry, or Baltsa. But if Barbieri’s showing over the course of the evening is a battle between will and means, it can at least be said that her will puts up a tenacious fight. When the music is within her reach, as more of it is than not (the whole of the garden scene in Act III, for example), her trademark intensity and her native sense of the style hold her in very good stead.

Returning to this after a period of time, I had expected to hear a greater difference in the way Giulini conducted CARLO/S here than on his famous EMI studio recording of 1971. I thought the later recording would be revealed as a good deal more laid-back, slower, perhaps over-refined. I really cannot say that my expectation was fulfilled by what I heard. More stayed the same than changed; and here and there, his approach is actually *more* languid, less well shaped in 1958 than it would be in 1971 (the short, dreamy orchestral prelude to Act III, a reminiscence of Carlo’s arietta at Fontainebleau, is “savored” to such a degree in 1958 that it threatens to wither on the vine). Frankly, as a souvenir of Giulini’s view of the opera (without getting into role-by-role comparisons of the singers), I believe the studio recording is superior. The interpretation had not greatly evolved, and on EMI we can hear it better recorded (not insignificant when sonority/texture is so much a conductor’s forte as it was Giulini’s) and more accurately played by the same orchestra. It must be said that the 1958 has its share of the common pitfalls of single-performance live recording: singers going through patches of poor coordination with the orchestra, occasional flubbed entrances and moments of dicey intonation in the pit that would surely be patched up in the studio, and the like.

(Incidentally, while I can neither verify nor dispute the claim that this new ROH “official” release has better sound than any previous issue by other labels, I can say the sound is more than acceptable considering the performance’s age and provenance, and that the packaging, photos, and notes, including libretto, are excellent. The level of surface hiss does go through many rises and falls, though — more noticeable via headphones — and a comparison to DG’s CD release of the Karajan/Salzburg DON CARLO of the same summer [starring Sena Jurinac, et al] reveals that the latter was much better recorded.)

The standard choices for newcomers who are amenable to hearing CARLO/S in the Italian translation remain Giulini/EMI and Solti/Decca, both with all five acts, from the two of which one can imagine creating the ideal set that neither is (importing Solti’s Filippo and Inquisitor into Giulini’s set, for example, would be a good start). The most consistently strong cast is to be found on Karajan/EMI, which is also the most orchestrally spectacular set; but there, one has not only the Italian translation to contend with but also the four-act abridgement (Karajan, though a great DON CARLO/S evangelist, never got the five-act religion). The field of recordings sung in French is weaker; if your inclination runs that way, hold your nose and go with Abbado/DG or de Billy/Orfeo. The 1958 Giulini live recording, though flawed and not inclusive of enough music to be anyone’s first choice, is to be appreciated as an historic recording in every sense — a window on a time when great artists came together to shine a light on an unaccountably underappreciated work by one of their art form’s greatest creators, and did much to clear the path for continuing illumination over succeeding decades. There are times when one senses that much of the ROH audience is encountering music that is new to it, as when Brouwenstijn concludes her massive Act V aria, the orchestra’s last note dies away, and the audience waits just a little longer than we expect before erupting into rapturous applause, as if wanting to make sure they do not trample on something — it would still be a while before DON CARLO/S applause protocol would be as ingrained in them as, say, AIDA protocol was. When a document of a live performance has such palpable excitement of new discovery about it, on the part of the musicians and on the part of the audience, it goes a long way toward covering whatever blemishes and imperfections there might be. Excitement — even secondhand and at the remove of some 50 years — is an infectious thing.

A Special Night

Recorded during a live performance in reasonable mono sound in 1958 at Covent Garden, London, this full version of Verdi’s richest opera “Don Carlo” is worth the investment of your money and most especially your time. The cast includes a very young John Vickers in the title role, and he is able to do with it as he wishes. While he never had a truly “Italianate” sound, who cares? In many of his ensembles his voice is so large that he simply covers up the person/people singing with him. One can’t blame him for having a big voice though, and he is always tasteful in this razors edge of a role. I make that analogy because if Carlo is too beefy you don’t believe in the character and if he’s too light, its not Verdi. (Domingo was marvelous in this role, but nothing like Vickers.) Gre Brouwenstijn, the omnipresent representation of a lyrico-spinto soprano in London, is just fine as Elisabetta, but she is certainly the weakest link in this chain of otherwise world class stars. Fedora Barbieri cracks the whip as the angry Eboli and never gives an inch. This sort of singing is now GONE. Tito Gobbi as Roderidgo is marvelous in a role that I thought he might have been too old for at this stage in the game. But there are several ways to portray this faithful sidekick and Gobbi chooses the big voiced, yet often subtle line to make his points. He is wonderful. Boris Christoff rounds things off with a mammoth rendering of Filippo II. He recorded this commercially several times, but never got quite as close as he does here to making the character fully three dimensional.

We then come to the sturdy glue that holds this affair together in a nearly unimaginable way. Carlo Maria Giulini is certainly at his very, very best in this opera and on this occasion. I would take Filippo’s “Ella giammai m’amo” and the following scene with the Grande Inquisitore as an example of magic on the podium. Giulini first sets everything up by letting the solo cellist play quite freely in the opening of the aria. He then takes the orchestra and finds near Straussian complexities in the underpinning of the vocal line. I’ve never heard anything quite like it. Even the dull English audience manages a few “bravos” at the end. The Inquisitore enters to his usual foot dragging music, but you feel this fight between the King and his so called “advisor” beginning at that moment. The unfolding set of climaxes culminating with Filippo’s “Giammai!” are paced so perfectly and with a ferocity that never rushes, that one feels drained after Filippo’s long two octave arpeggio on F# from top to bottom at the end of the scene. The Inquisitore is well sung by Michael Langdon.

I could go on like this, but I would be repeating myself continuously. I own more versions of Don Carlo than any other Verdi opera. I think for a historic recording this now goes to the top of the list.

4 Comments

  1. This is such a legendary performances!!!

    Whatever, I know you are a huge fan of Mario del Monaco. Are you interested in Jon Vickers too?

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