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ClassicsOnline Home » VERDI: Don Carlo (Christoff, Filippeschi, Gobbi) (1954)
This 1954 recording was the first studio realisation of the four-act 1884 version of Don Carlo and did much to introduce a wider public to the majesty of Verdi’s score. When the recording was reviewed in The Gramophone in November 1955 it commented:“Gobbi goes from strength to strength … Rodrigo’s noble death scene elicits from this artist some of the loveliest baritone singing I have ever heard on record.With the cardinal rôles of the King and Posa finely done, with beautifully moulded tone-colour and phrasing …, for the contributions of Gobbi and Christoff, the bloom of Stella’s voice and for the sublime ultra-Verdian splendours of this score, lovingly handled by Santini, the set will repay attention”.
By Tully Potter
Classic Record Collector
Great Opera Recordings
Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)
Don Carlo (1884 version)
Libretto by Méry and Du Locle after Friedrich Schiller
Filippo II (Philip), King of Spain - Boris Christoff (bass)
Don Carlo, Infante of Spain - Mario Filippeschi (tenor)
Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa - Tito Gobbi (baritone)
The Grand Inquisitor - Giulio Neri (bass)
A Monk - Plinio Clabassi (bass)
Elisabetta di Valois (Elizabeth) - Antonietta Stella (soprano)
Princess Eboli - Elena Nicolai (mezzo-soprano)
Tebaldo, page to Elisabetta - Loretta di Lelio (soprano)
Count of Lerma - Paolo Caroli (tenor)
A Royal Herald - Paolo Caroli (tenor)
A Voice from Heaven - Orietta Moscucci (soprano)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Opera House, Rome
(Giuseppe Conca, chorus master)
Gabriele Santini, conductor
It was during a visit to Paris in November 1865 that Verdi, then aged 52, was commissioned by the management of the Opéra to write a new five-act work with ballet music for that house. The commission was intended to be part of the 1867 Universal Exposition in that city. On returning home to Italy he set about obtaining clearance to use Schiller's drama as the basis for a libretto for an opera Don Carlos, to be undertaken by Joseph Méry and Camille du Locle. Verdi soon started work on his new opera and completed the composition by August the following year. Rehearsals in Paris, however, were much delayed, not least by the death of Verdi's father in January 1867 and by the return of the composer to Italy for the funeral. Eventually the opera was given its première on 11 March in the presence of Emperor Napoléon III and his wife Empress Eugénie. Severe cuts, however, had had to be made to Verdi's original score as it was found to be in excess of four hours. Exhausted and frustrated by the whole affair, Verdi returned to Italy in poor health. The first Italian performance took place at the Teatro Comunale, Bologna in October that same year in an Italianised version.
During the early 1880s Verdi began to revise the opera with the help of his librettist for Aida, Ghislanzoni, into a four-act Italian-language version (but omitting the first act and the ballet music) and this was heard at La Scala, Milan, on 10 January 1884 in the translation by Achille de Lauzières and Angelo Zanardini. The omission of the first act from the original Paris version fails to explain the beginnings of the relationship between Elisabeth and Carlos.
A third version, put together by another hand but presumably sanctioned by Verdi, contained the 1884 Milan revision together with the discarded first act from the Paris version (translated into Italian): this was presented in Modena on 20 December 1886.
Despite Verdi's revisions the opera never really established itself in the general repertory. The work was performed on occasion in Italy and even in the United States. In Britain Beecham conducted a revival of the four-act version at Covent Garden in 1933 (the first time the opera had been heard there for 66 years) but the work and performances were deemed a failure. A new production was mounted by Sadler's Wells Opera in 1950 in an abridged version which again failed with the public and critics alike. The opening night of Rudolf Bing's intendancy at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in November 1950 brought forth a new production using the 1884 version, the results of which aroused new interest in the opera. The famous 1958 Visconti production for the centenary of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, was the first opportunity many British opera lovers had to savour the five-act version, albeit sung in Italian. Since then the full, original French 1867 version has been performed and recorded, thereby restoring and revealing the full magnificence of one of Verdi's very finest scores.
The message behind Schiller's huge drama greatly appealed to Verdi with his love of individual and national liberty and his loathing of ecclesiastical or political tyranny. Then there are six fascinating and intertwined characters set against church and state who determine the fate of three nations. The high point of the opera is the spectacular Meyerbeer-styled auto-da-fé scene in which miscreants were handed over to the secular powers for punishment, a spectacle beloved of Spanish crowds of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The whole scene conveys a vast and compelling drama in the manner of Meyerbeer. Further highlights include the powerful and stirring duet between Carlos and Rodrigo in Act 1 where they swear their friendship. In Act 3, there is one of Verdi's most dramatic scenes in which Philip, lamenting that his wife Elisabeth no longer loves him, is then visited by the Grand Inquisitor (the spiritual power) where the interplay and ever-increasing clash between the two characters is chilling and very real. It is the very unity of the Catholic faith that is at stake, not the death of an individual. Then there is the death of Carlos's friend Rodrigo (who had taken up the cause of the Dutch separists) in his prison cell, followed by the angered crowd set against Carlos before the king and Grand Inquisitor appear to quell the uproar. All concludes at the very end of the opera when the condemned Don Carlos is taken into the sanctuary of the church by an aged friar.
Writing to his publisher Giulio Ricordi when finishing the 1884 version, Verdi commented: "Brilliant as it is in form and noble sentiments, everything in this drama is false … The real Don Carlos was feeble-minded, choleric and unsympathetic. Elisabeth was never in love with Don Carlos. Posa is an imaginary character who never existed under the rule of Philip II. And Philip himself says: 'Beware of my Inquisitor', and 'who will give me this dead man back?' The real Philip was not so mild…In fact there is nothing really historical about this drama".
Despite Verdi's comments on his opera, Philip II of Spain (1529-98) was king of that country between the years 1556-98. From his father Charles V, Philip inherited Milan, Naples, Sicily, the Netherlands, Spain and its empire in the New World. He then married Mary I of England in 1554. A war with France was concluded in 1559 when he married, as his third wife, the fifteen-year-old Elisabeth de Valois (1545-1568). The revolt by the Protestants in the Netherlands began in 1566. Philip was a staunch defender of the Roman Catholic faith, so he launched an unsuccessful Armada in 1588 in order to crush the English who had sided with their fellow Protestants in Holland.
This 1954 recording was the first studio realisation of the four-act 1884 version and did much to introduce a wider public to the majesty of Verdi's score. When the recording was reviewed in The Gramophone in November 1955 it commented: "Gobbi goes from strength to strength … I say with due consideration that Rodrigo's noble death scene … elicits from this artist some of the loveliest baritone singing I have ever heard on record. With the cardinal rôles of the King and Posa thus finely done, with beautifully moulded tone-colour and phrasing … despite some blemishes, for the contributions of Gobbi and Christoff, the bloom of Stella's voice and for the sublime ultra-Verdian splendours of this score, lovingly handled by Santini, the set will repay attention".
Antonietta Stella was born in Perugia, Italy in 1929, first studying singing in her native city before moving to the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome. She then won the Concorso ENAL in Bologna in 1949. Her début was as Leonora in La forza del destino in Spoletto in 1951, repeating that rôle in Rome the following year to great acclaim. After next appearing in Germany, she sang in Florence, Naples and her native city. Her début at Milan La Scala theatre was as Desdemona in Verdi's Otello in 1954 where her rôles over the next decade included Donna Anna (Don Giovanni), Amelia in Un ballo in maschera, Aida, Butterfly and Lida (La battaglia do Legnano). Stella made her first London appearance as Aida at Covent Garden in 1955. She was a member of the Metropolitan Opera House in New York for four seasons from 1956 where she sang in over fifty performances of eight rôles: these included Butterfly, Tosca, Elisabetta di Valois, Violetta, Amelia and Leonora in Forza. She continued to sing throughout Italy until the late 1970s in addition to appearing in Paris, Brussels and Vienna regularly in the main Verdian and Puccini parts. In 1974 she created the title rôle of De Belli's Maria Stuarda in Naples. She recorded extensively for a number of labels, including the then rarely heard Linda di Chamounix of Donizetti under Tullio Serafin. In more recent times she has taught singing.
The Bulgarian-born but naturalised Italian mezzosoprano Elena Nicolai (1905-1993), christened Nikolova, was born in the village of Tzerovo in the Pazardzhin region in 1905. She studied at the Milan Conservatorio under Pintorno and made her 'real' début at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples as Annina in Der Rosenkavalier. Soon she was appearing throughout Italy in a variety of rôles that included Amneris, Laura (La Gioconda), Carmen, Ortrud and Eudosia in Respighi's La Fiamma. She first sang at La Scala, Milan, in January 1942 as La Principessa di Bouillon in Adriana Lecouvreur and would continue in that house for the next decade. She made her English début as Mistress Quickly in Verdi's Falstaff at the Cambridge Theatre in 1949, followed by engagements in France, Switzerland, Spain and South America (Rio de Janeiro). Nicolai achieved a particular success in the part of Starita in a production of Spontini's Olympiaat the 1950 Florence May Festival. She returned to her native Bulgaria on four occasions. She also sang the soprano rôle of Brünnhilde in Die Walküre in addition to taking part in the première of Pizzetti's La Figlia di Jorio in 1954 at La Scala. She also had a short film career of six movies between 1963 and 1968. She died in Milan in October 1993.
The tenor Mario Filippeschi (1907-1979) was born in Montefoscoli, Pisa. At the age of seventeen he studied the clarinet before joining the army in 1927 for a three year period. After study with various vocal teachers, he made his début as Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor at Colorno, near Busseto in 1937 and this was followed by two seasons singing in Holland, followed by further engagements in Germany and Italy during the war years. His Roman début was as Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly in March 1942. Filippeschi's first La Scala appearance was in September 1948 as Maurizio in Adriana Lecouvreur. He soon appeared regularly in Rome, Naples, Spain, France, Mexico and South America. He received considerable acclaim in Rossini's Armide opposite Maria Callas at the 1952 Florence May Festival. His single London season was in 1958 with a visiting Italian company at the Drury Lane Theatre singing Manrico and Arnold in Guglielmo Tell. There his robust spinto tenor voice, with its fine upper register, was generously displayed. His repertoire included all the main Verdi, Puccini and a large number of verismo rôles. After retiring in 1965 he became a stage director. He died in Florence on Christmas Day 1979.
The baritone Tito Gobbi (1913-1984) was born at Bassano del Grappa. Originally he studied law at Padua University but changed to singing, studying with Giulio Crimi. His début took place at Gubbio when he sang the bass rôle of Conte Rodolfo in La sonnambula in 1935. The following year he won first prize in an international competition held in Vienna that resulted in his Rome début at the Teatro Adriano as Germont in 1939. He made his La Scala début in April 1942 as Belcore in L'elisir d'amore. He sang the title-rôle in Berg's Wozzeck in Rome the same year to great acclaim. His first United States appearance was as Figaro in Rossini's opera at San Francisco in 1948. He then appeared at the 1950 Salzburg Festival as Don Giovanni, before making his first stage appearance in Britain with the visiting La Scala company at Covent Garden as Belcore and Ford. He later became a regular guest at this house, singing Renato, Iago, Scarpia, Rigoletto, Gianni Schicchi, Rodrigo, Falstaff and Boccanegra over the next twenty years. He sang at the Chicago Lyric Opera for ten seasons from 1954. He appeared irregularly at the Metropolitan in New York between 1956 and 1976, singing Scarpia, Iago, Rigoletto and Falstaff. In the early part of his career he had appeared in a number of films and after retiring from singing became a stage producer to considerable acclaim. Gobbi was a superb singing actor who created many memorable characterisations both on stage and for recording, especially in the Verdian rôles.
The Bulgarian bass Boris Christoff (1914-1993) was born in Plovdiv. He sang in the celebrated Gusla Choir before being helped by King Boris with funds to study in Rome with Riccardo Stracciari, later studying in Salzburg. His delayed début took place in a concert in Rome in 1946, before stage appearance as Colline. He was engaged by La Scala the following June as Pimen in Boris Godunov, and in 1949 he sang the title-rôle at Covent Garden where he would appear regularly for the next quarter century. His Metropolitan début was cancelled in 1950 because of his Bulgarian nationality and it was a further six years before he sang in San Francisco and later Chicago (1957-63). He sang at the 1949 Salzburg Festival under Karajan in Beethoven's Choral Symphony and the Verdi Requiem. His first stage appearance there was in Don Carlo in 1960. Christoff sang widely throughout Europe for over thirty years in mainly Russian and Italian (especially in Verdi) parts in addition to Hagen, Gurnemanz and King Marke. His voice, though not large, was smooth, round and well projected. He possessed great dramatic powers and was a very compelling singing actor. His brother-in-law was Tito Gobbi.
The Italian bass Giulio Neri (1909-1958) was born in Turrita di Siena and studied with Ferraresi in Florence for one year and then at the Rome Conservatorio for a further three. He made his début in Rossini's Barbiere in 1928 but considered his real one was at the Teatro delle Quattro Fontane in Rome in 1935. Originally singing comprimario rôles, Neri soon graduated to major parts when he joined the Teatro Reale in Rome in 1938 as a leading bass, spending most of his career there until his death. Neri also sang in Venice, Florence, Barcelona, Buenos Aires and Munich. His single Covent Garden season was in 1953 when he appeared as Oroveso in Norma and Ramfis in Aida. His large, dark bass voice was ideally suited to the Wagnerian parts he undertook but he was also highly regarded as Alvise (La Gioconda), the title-rôle of Boito's Mefistofele (which he recorded), Don Basilio and, especially, the Grand Inquisitor. He died in April 1958 in Rome of a heart attack, just before he was to appear in that last rôle in the famous 1958 Visconti production at Covent Garden.
The conductor Gabriele Santini (1886-1964) was born in Perugia, where he undertook his musical studies before continuing at Bologna Conservatorio. He made his conducting début in 1906 but soon moved to South America where he was employed at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires for eight seasons before appearing in Rio de Janeiro and Chicago. He then assisted Toscanini at La Scala in Milan between 1925 and 1929, conducting Aida, Madama Butterfly, Der Freischütz, Carmen, Gianni Schicchi, Tosca and Il Tabarro. He then worked at the Opera in Rome during the years 1929-33. He returned to La Scala in 1934 to conduct eight operas during the year. Santini conducted the première of Mascagni's Il re in Rome in 1930. He returned to La Scala in 1943 to conduct La Wally. He then became the artistic director of the Rome Opera during the years 1944 and 1947 and then was music director until 1962. He directed the première of Alfano's Dottor Antonio in Rome in 1949, in addition to conducting the first Italian performances of L'heure espagnole (Rome, 1929) and Milhaud's Christophe Colomb (Rome, 1954). Santini recorded a number of complete operas between the years 1952 and 1964. Sadly he collapsed during a recording of Tosca in 1964 which resulted in the project being aborted. Santini died in November that year in Rome.
[CD 1 / Track 1] Prelude
[1/2] The act opens in the cloister of the Spanish monastery of St Yuste, where monks pray at the tomb of the Emperor Charles V.
[1/3] Don Carlo seeks consolation at the tomb of his ancestor, Charles V, who had abdicated his throne to become a monk. Now he seems to have lost his beloved Elisabeth.
[1/4] Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa, joins him, welcomed by his friend. Rodrigo has recently returned from Flanders, and seeks the help of Don Carlo in securing freedom for the people there, oppressed by the power of Spain.
[1/5] Don Carlo admits to Rodrigo his love for Elisabeth, his father's wife.
[1/6] The second scene is set in a garden by the monastery gate, where the ladies of the Spanish court, with Princess Eboli, are seen.
[1/7] Accompanied by a page on the mandolin, Eboli sings an old Moorish love-song.
[1/8] When Elisabeth arrives, Rodrigo comes forward to give her a letter from France from her mother. He also gives her a note from Don Carlo telling her to trust Rodrigo and arrange a meeting with him. Eboli, however, believes that Carlo is secretly in love with her.
[1/9] Rodrigo pleads for Carlo and Elisabeth agrees to meet him. Rodrigo and Eboli leave together.
[1/10] Carlo appears, begging Elisabeth's indulgence, asking her to intercede with his father to have him appointed envoy to Flanders. He finds her cold-hearted, but she rejects the accusation, pleading the demands of duty, in spite of her feelings. Carlo must declare his love for her, and seizes her in his arms, but she warns of the danger he runs, as he leaves her, and she falls to her knees in prayer.
[1/11] The King appears, angry that the Queen has apparently been left unattended, and dismisses the Countess of Aremberg, the Queen's lady-in-waiting, sending her back to France.
[1/12] Elisabeth tries to comfort the Countess, telling her that she has a place in the Queen's heart, even if banished from Spain. She gives her a ring, as they part.
[1/13] The King tells Rodrigo, who has been present, to come forward.
[1/14] Rodrigo tells the King of the suffering of the people of Flanders under the Inquisition.
[1/15] Philip, however, has no sympathy with the heretics and warns Rodrigo to beware of the Grand Inquisitor.
[1/16] Although he admires the young man's courage and honesty, he warns him again.
[1/18] The scene is set in the Queen's garden, while a masked ball takes place in the palace. Carlo has received a note telling him to come to the garden, and when he arrives he sees what he thinks is the Queen, but is, in fact, the Princess Eboli. He declares his love for her, but Rodrigo, entering, tells her that Carlo is mad. Eboli, however, has Carlo in her power.
[1/19] Princess Eboli is angry and disappointed.
[1/20] She vows revenge on the Queen and Carlo. Rodrigo wants to kill Eboli, but is restrained by Carlo.
[1/21] Princess Eboli vents her fury on Carlo, threatened by Rodrigo, but Carlo realises that Eboli knows everything. She storms out.
[1/22] Carlo assures Rodrigo that he trusts him, in spite of initial hesitation.
[2/1] In front of the cathedral of Valladolid, the people praise their King. A funeral march is heard and monks lead in those condemned to death by the Holy Office.
[2/2] To the sound of a march the grandees of the state gather, with Rodrigo in their midst. The Queen is present, surrounded by her ladies. The royal herald calls for the doors of the cathedral to be opened, echoed by the whole assembly. The doors are opened to reveal the King, in full regalia.
[2/3] King Philip promises that those guilty will be burnt to death, a judgement greeted with popular enthusiasm. The Queen sees Carlo, who steps forward, bringing a deputation from Brabant and Flanders, who seek peace and royal clemency.
[2/4] The King accuses them of treachery to God and to their King in their rebellion. Elisabeth, Carlo and Rodrigo seek royal clemency, joined in their plea by the Queen's page Tebaldo and the people, but opposed by the monks.
[2/5] Carlo tells the King that the time has come for him to assume responsibility and asks to be sent to Brabant and Flanders. The King refuses, but, to the consternation of Elisabeth and Rodrigo, Carl impetuously draws his sword and the King orders him to be disarmed. None of those present dare obey, until Rodrigo takes the sword.
[2/6] Carlo, thinking himself betrayed, gives in, while Rodrigo receives the King's approval. The company prepares to watch the burning of the heretics.
[2/7] In his chamber the King is troubled by the need to sentence his son.
[2/8] He is worried that he will never have the love of his wife.
[2/9] He will be alone in his final years, to be buried in the Escorial.
[2/10] The Grand Inquisitor is announced and is adamant that Carlo must die.
[2/11] The old man goes on to declare that Rodrigo too must be put to death, urging the King to do his duty.
[2/12] Left alone for a moment, the King is joined by Elisabeth, who falls at his feet, seeking his help against palace intrigue: her jewels have been stolen and she must have justice. Philip tells her that the jewels are in his possession and among them a portrait of Don Carlo. She pleads her innocence, as one formerly betrothed to Carlo. He pushes her aside, and she falls down, fainting. The King calls for help and Rodrigo and Princess Eboli rush to her side, to help her.
[2/13] The four react each in their own way to these events. The King goes out, followed by Rodrigo.
[2/14] Eboli now admits that she had given the jewel casket to the King, and confesses that she has been the King's mistress. Elisabeth banishes her to a convent.
[2/15] Eboli curses her own beauty that has brought her to this. She now plans revenge by fomenting an armed rebellion to rescue Don Carlo.
[2/16] Rodrigo has tried to take the blame for the disaffection in Flanders, proving his guilt to the King by papers in his possession.
[2/17] In the prison he comes to bid farewell to his friend Carlo, telling him of his confession of guilt to the King.
[2/18] He urges Carlo to take his place in Flanders, but a shot rings out and he falls dying.
[2/19] With his last words, Rodrigo tells Carlo that Elisabeth knows everything and will meet him at the monastery: it is his duty to save Spain.
[2/20] The King comes to set his son free, but is accused by him of murdering Rodrigo, revealing that Rodrigo has died in his place. News comes of the approach of a mob, raised by Princess Eboli, in her attempt to save Carlo. The rioters are forced to kneel before their King, and Eboli, in the guise of a page, makes clear to Elisabeth the depth of her feelings for Carlo.
[3/1] It is night, lit by the light of the moon. In the monastery of St Yuste Elisabeth kneels in prayer before the tomb of Charles V.
[3/2] She thinks of her earlier happiness at Fontainebleau and is ready to bid farewell to Don Carlo, who is to leave for Flanders.
[3/3] Carlo appears and Elisabeth urges him to remember Rodrigo and Flanders.
[3/4-5] Elisabeth and Carlo take leave of each other.
[3/6] Philip and the Grand Inquisitor come forward, ready to lay hands on Carlo as a traitor and heretic. At this moment a figure appears, seemingly that of Charles V, to the terror of those present, and drags Carlo away into the cloister.
Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901): Don Carlo (1884 version)
Recorded 5-9 and 11-14 October 1954 in the Opera House, Rome
First released on HMV ALP 1289 through 1291
Appendix: Historical Recordings of Don Carlo
Io l'ho perduta!… Dio, che nell'alma infondere
Jussi Björling (tenor), Robert Merrill (baritone) and Emil Markow (bass)
RCA Victor Orchestra and Chorus • Renato Cellini
Recorded 30 November 1950 in Manhattan Center, New York City
Matices: E0-RC-1946-1 and 1947-1. First issued on LM-7007
Nei giardin del bello
Blanche Thebom (mezzo-soprano)
London Symphony Orchestra • Warwick Braithwaite
Recorded 12 July 1950 in EMI Abbey Road Studio No. 1, London
Matrix: 2EA 14895. First issued on HMV DB 21494
Ella giammai m'amò!… Dormirò sol nel manto mio regal
Ezio Pinza (bass)
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra • Fausto Cleva
Recorded 22 March 1946 in New York City
Matrices: XCO 36007-1C and 36008-1B. First issued on Columbia 72802D
O don fatale
Marian Anderson (contralto)
Orchestra • Lawrance Collingwood
Recorded 17 September 1928 in Queen's Small Hall, London
Matrix: Cc 14364-4. First issued on HMV C 2065
Felice ancor io son … Per me giunto è il dì supremo / O Carlo, ascolta
Mattia Battistini (baritone)
Orchestra • Carlo Sabajno
Recorded 2 June 1913 in Milan
Matrices: 2808c and 2809 1/2c. First issued on HMV 052403 and 052404
Tu che la vanità
Meta Seinemeyer (soprano)
Berlin State Opera Orchestra • Frieder Weissmann
Recorded 2 November 1927 in Berlin
Matrices: 2-20426 and 2-20427. First issued on Parlophon P 9873
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VERDI: Don Carlo (Christoff, Filippeschi, Gobbi) (...