Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us

Verdi: Don Carlos

Tremblay/ Vilma/ Turp/ Savoie/ Rouleau/ Van Allan/ Lloyd/ Knight/ Belcourt etc

BBC Singers/ BBCCO/ Matheson

Opera Rara Verdi Originals ORCV305 [4 CDs, 231 mins, recorded by BBC, 1972]

This is the last in Opera Rara's Verdi Originals series, presenting the first versions of operas the composer later subjected to drastic revision. It allows us to hear the entire score which Don Carlos (the "s" defines the French version) as Verdi submitted it to the Paris Opéra for the premiere in 1867, before extensive cuts made during rehearsal.

Hearing familiar Verdi sung by a Francophone cast in French is a great pleasure and gives a different feel to the music. It also fits well much of the action in which France looms large, with French characters and the first act location at Fontainebleau.

Later we are very conscious that the unhappy Queen (Elizabeth de Valois) is an exile in Spain, and one of the most affecting scenes is when her lady-in-waiting is peremptorily banished to France, Elizabeth both commiserating and envious that she will be returning to their native country.

Maybe not all up to the greatest singing to be found in recordings of Don Carlo but certainly very serviceable, with many well known singers of the time older opera goers and collectors will remember (the Canadian bass Joseph Rouleau sang forty roles at Covent Garden). This complete version was prepared with an English translation by Andrew Porter, who found the cut passages in pristine condition in Paris, folded and stitched away, ready to snip and open for bringing back to life.

It is indispensible to lovers of this opera, which joined the 'canon' in UK with Guilini's introduction of it to Covent Garden, since when it has become a favourite Verdi opera for many of us. The BBC performance, taken from a 1972 broadcast (I was there at Camden Theatre amongst the invited audience) did not have today's advantage of patching sessions, I guess?

As always, Opera Rara does Verdi, Porter and producer Julian Budden proud, with a 300 page illustrated booklet, libretti in four languages and good black-on-white print.

© Peter Grahame Woolf