VERDI: Don Carlo

Moreover the bonus is always
concentrated on another performance of one of the leading singers of the main
performance and therefore a clear nod towards the fans most expected to buy
the issue. With almost an hour of music on CD3 devoted to Aragall’s Des
Grieux in Massenet’s Manon the main ‘raison
d’Ítre’ of this recording is clear and the tenor’s fans
indeed get almost two of his complete performances for the price of one. Most
will of course regret that the Don Carlo is the traditional 4-act
performance, lacking the big first act duet of the 5-act version. Still, the
performance has something to offer and hearing the sometimes ebullient
reactions of the Viennese public, made a tremendous impression upon the

Aragall is a worthy Don Carlos though one has to admit he never completely
fulfilled the expectations of his early years. At the time he was called a
far greater promise than his contemporary rival, Luciano Pavarotti, and it
was no coincidence that in the different performances of I Capuleti e I
they sang together in 1964, Aragall got the plum role of Romeo
while Pavarotti had to do with the less important Tebaldo. But while
Pavarotti refined his art, Aragall didn’t evolve much, relying upon the
formidable fine sound he produced. There is no denying the beauty of the
voice though by 1976 he often attacked a note from below to reach a high
note. What is lacking is imaginative phrasing. The beautiful voice rolls on
and on but one cannot say there is deeper insight or a flash of understanding
we know from less talented tenors like Bergonzi in his Decca-recording or
Villazon in his Amsterdam-DVD. Aragall respects the score and will use
mezza-voce or piano when necessary but this is the (granted, small) problem.
The voice gets colourless and the interpretation becomes somewhat senseless.
In short, he never puts a foot wrong in this performance but neither is there
an outstanding moment that remains with you after having heard him.

As far as I know this is the first testimony of Freni’s Elisabetta;
one year before she sang the same role at the opening of La Scala and two
years before she recorded the part with Karajan. Probably the main reason for
her taking on the role was her affair with Nicolai Ghiaurov that would result
in their marriage in 1978. As Ghiaurov was so much in demand as Filippo, they
could be together a lot of the time if she took on this spinto role. Her
voice is at its very best, opulent, fresh and plangent in her leave taking of
the countess of Arenberg and in her ‘Tu che la vanita’. She
easily masters the climaxes and yet one clearly hears in this live
performance where no balancing can shift the weight of a voice that the role
is a shade too heavy for her instrument. When confronted with real heavies
like Cossotto and Cappuccilli in the trio ‘Carlo che sol il nostro
amore’ her voice disappears in the background. But when she is on her
own or with a lyric partner like Aragall, maybe only CaballÈ of the many
sopranos who have recorded the role in the last thirty years can match Freni.
Fiorenzo Cossotto has other competitors, the best one of them maybe her own
official and live recordings of the sixties. In her veil song I was struck by
the lack of a low register while the voice was no longer seamless. But then
she returns true to form till the ordeal of ‘O don fatale’ and
there it becomes clear that twenty years of heavy roles have taken their
toll. She starts well but then the voice becomes a hollow shriek at the G
flat at the end of the cadence in the opening section. The central section
she sings with her accustomed sound but she has the final movement transposed
by a full tone and even then she barely makes it. The problems clearly
announce her definite vocal deterioration two years later. Nicolai Ghiaurov
too is, notwithstanding the enormous applause after ‘Ella giammai
m’amo’, no longer the outstanding singer he once was. He still
has some rolling sounds but the voice is a lot drier than it used to be. At
the beginning of the monologue one for a moment thinks another, lesser singer
has taken over. Ghiaurov’s breath has become short so that he no longer
can sustain longer phrases . In the duet with the great inquisitor he still
has the necessary authority, be it one that has to cut short one or another
voluminous top note. Hans Sotin doesn’t have much threats in the voice,
nor is it blacker than that of his Filippo but he sings with conviction and
without shouting as so many second basses do. Of the men, Piero Cappuccilli
takes the honours. His singing, as so often, is exemplary: perfect legato,
long phrases, an easy top and the brown colour the best of Italian baritones
are associated with. There are even moments, like in his duet with the king,
of emotion where a few less gracious notes are introduced for drama’s
sake and for once this makes his Rodrigo more interesting than usual because,
let’s face it, he could sing it twice as good as Gobbi while being
twice as boring at the same time.

Nello Santi, often vilified for his indulgences towards some singers, is
one of the best conductors on record. He clearly breathes with his singers,
stops the orchestra after a particular fine aria so the singer gets the
well-earned applause and nevertheless paces a fine performance in true
Verdian style.

In the long bonus we get a very fine Jeanette Pilou as a vivacious,
beautiful though not fifteen year old Manon. Aragall too is in terrific
voice, be it with the restrictions we know from his Don Carlo. One is
reminded in the beauty of the voice of a young Giuseppe Di Stefano but once
more Aragall lacks the elder tenor’s refined phrasing now and then.
Aragall’s hasn’t the morbidezza during his entrance. Alain Vanzo
with half Aragall’s talent makes a far bigger impression. And in Des
Grieux’s dream Aragall’s lack of a truly beautiful pianissimo is
obvious. His clear forthright singing suits ‘Ah, fuyez’ far

Jan Neckers

image_description=Giuseppe Verdi: Don Carlo
product_title=Giuseppe Verdi: Don Carlo
product_by=Mirella Freni (Elisabetta), Jaime Aragall (Don Carlo), Fiorenza Cossotto (Eboli), Piero Cappuccilli (Rodrigo), Nicolai Ghiaurov (Filippo II), Hans Sotin (Gran Inquisitore), Walter Fink (Frate), Olga Warla (Tebaldo), Ewal Aichberger (Lerma), Liselotte Maikl (Voce dal cielo). Vienna State Opera Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Nello Santi.
product_id=Myto 3 MCD 055.320 [3CDs]