Verdi: Don Carlo / Karajan, Freni, Baltsa, Carreras, Raimondi

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There are arguments to be made in favor of both versions of Don Carlo, in four or five acts (never mind French or Italian), although either way it remains a very long opera. Karajan’s EMI recording of the four-act edition, with a very similar cast to this one, remains one of his greatest Verdi outings. However, this new release of a live performance from the Vienna State Opera in 1979 displaces all other recordings of the four-act version, including Karajan’s earlier one. It is very well and naturally recorded, although the overall perspectives are somewhat low-level. Turn up the volume, however, and the performance snaps nicely into focus. The audience behaves well, with the not-distractingly-audible evidence of its presence adding to the sense of occasion.

Better still, many of the exaggerations and eccentricities on that 1978 studio performance–very loud passages followed by almost inaudible ones, odd ritards, etc.–are gone from this reading, but the nobility remains. It’s still on the slow side (Eboli’s “O don fatale” is amazingly slow, but brilliantly performed, with true grief, by Agnes Baltsa (sound clip) who handles every long breath and every high note as if the aria were easy) and there’s still the occasional weird cut (part of Elisabetta’s farewell to her Countess friend, the second verse of the Veil song). However, the Philip and Grand Inquisitor–Ruggero Raimondi and Matti Salminen–are breathtaking here. Freni is just as good; Baltsa is better, and Carreras is still the Don Carlo to hear in the 1970s–a just-about-perfect performance. Piero Cappuccilli’s Posa is warmer than before but just as full voiced. This is a must have, even if the libretto is not included.

-- Robert Levine,

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: ORF-C876133

  • UPC: 4011790876320

  • Label: Orfeo

  • Composer: Giuseppe Verdi

  • Conductor: Herbert von Karajan

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Vienna State Opera Orchestra

  • Performer: Agnes Baltsa, Edita Gruberova, José Carreras, Marjon Lambriks, Matti Salminen, Piero Cappuccilli, Ruggero Raimondi, Thomas Moser