Don Carlos – Opera in four acts to a libretto by Joseph Méry & Camille du Locle after Schiller’s dramatic poem [sung in an English translation by Andrew Porter]
Philip II of Spain – Alastair Miles
Don Carlos – Julian Gavin
Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa – William Dazeley
The Grand Inquisitor – John Tomlinson
Elisabeth de Valois – Janice Watson
Princess of Eboli – Jane Dutton
Thibault – Julia Sporsén
A Monk – Clive Bayley
Count of Lerma – Stephen Briggs
Voice from Heaven – Rebecca Ryan
Royal Herald – Campbell Russell
Flemish Deputies – Julian Close, Grant Doyle, Stephen Richardson, Riccardo Simonetti, A. Galloway Bell & Stephen Dowson
Chorus of Opera North
Orchestra of Opera North
Recorded 26-30 May 2009 in Town Hall, Leeds
Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell
Reviewed: January 2010
CD No: CHANDOS
CHAN 3162 (3 CDs)
Duration: 2 hours 47 minutes
This is another important release in Chandos’s “Opera in English” series for it adds “Don Carlos” to its recordings of the final operas of Verdi (“Aida”, “Otello” and “Falstaff”). The performance, especially from an orchestral perspective, provides an absorbing listen and will certainly find favour from those getting to know the work. Richard Farnes elicits a response from the Orchestra of Opera North that is strong in theatrical terms and is spaciously and atmospherically recorded, and particularly fine at differentiating between the public and the intimate scenes of this great work. The orchestra is on fine form, at times superb. For example the freely expressive cello-playing at the start of the penultimate act in the introduction to “she has no love for me” (Ella giammai m’amò!); the prelude to Elisabeth’s final act aria is no less fine with its expressive themes that so effectively presage the impending tragedy of the opera’s conclusion; and also memorable is the accompaniment to Elisabeth’s farewell to the Countess of Aremberg in the first act.
By which “Don Carlos” enthusiasts will register that the version recorded is essentially the standard four-act Italian version. The translation into English is that of Andrew Porter and is evidently very sing-able as virtually every word of the text is clearly audible whether sung by principal or chorus member (the latter strong on diction and together with Farnes’s excellent pacing, vivid orchestral playing and the clear recording, they contribute to a rewarding account of the ‘Auto-da-Fe’ scene).
Porter’s translation is remarkably faithful as a translation of the Italian text (itself not that lovely given that it is drawn from Schiller) but at times the language seems to lack the poetry that the Italian (and French) languages can confer on it.
That being said one certainly can follow every turn in the drama. Not all the principals manage to inflect the text as dramatically as they might. Best of all are the basses. Alastair Miles’s Philip II is a more fiery interpretation of the King than many others in recorded terms, and he really sings off the words and brings the character to theatrical life – he’s certainly helped by Farnes’s fluid and generally fast tempos. He may not have the cavernous and rounded sound of other recorded basses in the role but the encounter with John Tomlinson’s terrifyingly implacable and vocally imposing Grand Inquisitor is the highlight it should be – although Tomlinson’s voice is not always perfectly steady. Clive Bayley also provides an ideal vocal contrast as the mysterious monk, recorded in an acoustic that sounds just like a church cloister.
In the title role Julian Gavin, who has much experience of playing the role in several productions, excites with his plangent and liquid tone, but sometimes he lacks expressivity. In the first scene with the monk he sings “Ah! That voice – it chills my heart” but it does not really sound as if that is the case. Similarly, he seems rather matter-of-fact when, after telling Rodrigo that he is in love with Elisabeth, he sings “You’re unable to look in my face…”, a moment that needs more anguish and desperation. William Dazeley as Rodrigo is similarly prosaic at times, and compared with other interpreters falls short on presence; he does not always capture the character’s intriguing mix of idealism and fanaticism.
The principal ladies are a well-contrasted pair. Janice Watson is a strong Elisabeth, with attractive and creamy tone, and she delivers her set-piece arias with considerable aplomb. She has a ‘sad’ quality to her tone that makes her effective as the unhappy but regal Queen, but she’s not always in absolute control in the part’s more declamatory passages – such as her entrance into the King’s study in the penultimate act. Jane Dutton’s fiery and forceful Eboli is satisfying, best in the more dramatic and declamatory moments than in passages that require more dynamic control or coloratura technique. She is not extrovertly at ease in the ‘Veil song’, for example.
Taken as a whole this is an exciting issue, most remarkable for the compelling contributions of Alastair Miles and for Richard Farnes’s refreshingly non-fussy and non-indulgent reading of the score. The excellent packaging and booklet is all one would from expect from Chandos.