Audiophile Audition, October 27, 2014
Steven Ritter
VERDI: Don Carlo
Kaufmann and company do the 2013 Salzburg Festival proud.
As you can see from the title, this is one of the five Italian versions Verdi made of this, his longest and most tortured of all his operas revision-wise. The original Don Carlo was of course in French, and later “trimmed” to four acts in Italian, though critical consensus seems to stay with the five. Strangely enough, the French had all kinds of problems with the work, even to the point of making unauthorized cuts and changes after the premiere. And the Italian version, translated very early on, appeared first not in Italy but in London!

The undertaking of this score is such a massive amount of work—and though popular, always a risk with audiences—that one can only applaud the 2013 Salzburg Festival for mounting Peter Stein’s sparse but very effective and traditionally-clothed production. Antonio Pappano, a fixture at the festival, conducts his third (I believe, unless I missed one) DVD of this piece, a fairly remarkable thing in and of itself, and demonstrates a firm and committed mastery of the opera. The cast, as most casts of this opera, has strengths and weaknesses. Some have complained about Thomas Hampson’s decline; aside from the natural and expected losses of dexterity in the voice, I find him to be quite solid here. In fact, this extraordinary singer’s acting abilities are brought to the fore in his role as Carlo’s foil Rodrigo, and Hampson, knowing his own abilities and where he is at in his career, manages his vocal prowess adroitly.

Matti Salminen is undergoing a similar stage of life issue, but vocally he is fine—it’s his portrayal that seems a little ho-hum during parts of this opera, but he does rise to the occasion when needed. One might think also that Anja Harteros is a little old for this role in terms of the youth of Elisabetta, but she looks terrific and shows that she does indeed have the ability to match Verdi’s sometimes strenuous requirements.

The tenor of the decade is without question Jonas Kaufman, and though he has critics who seem more intent on concentrating on what he cannot do as opposed to mentioning how many tenors there are who don’t even come near to matching his skillset, this playing of the role of the tormented Infante should silence most. Kaufmann is wondrously adept at the part, bringing lyrical propensities and highly-developed acting to the performance that serves as the golden thread on which this production hangs. Need I say that the Vienna Philharmonic plays splendidly? An outstanding release!

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