As with several other performances from La Scala recently released on DVD, there is a CD equivalent to this set. When those CDs were released in 1994, they received mixed reviews, but the present DVDs probably will fare better, as this production's staging – by none other than Franco Zeffirelli – compensates for the minor vocal shortcomings of this performance. This production of the four-act version of Don Carlos dates from December 1992. Because no specific date is listed in the booklet, I assume that this is a composite of the best performances given on two or more evenings. If there were any cracked notes, or gross mishaps of any other sort, they have been removed. It is Pavarotti whose photo appears all over the DVD case. I suppose this is appropriate, as he is the opera's titular hero, even though his role is arguably not the most important. Dramatically, he is a competent Carlos, albeit generalized in expression. His singing is much like his acting – he gets all the primary colors right but there is little shading. Still, Pavarotti is Pavarotti, and he was in good voice on this occasion. It is amusing that Samuel Ramey is supposed to be his father – they appear to be about the same age. When Philip sings about his white hair in Act 3, one wonders to what he is referring, apart from a little salt and pepper in the beard. To my mind, Ramey steals the show, both vocally and dramatically, and the audience thinks so too, judging from their reaction to "Ella giammai m'amò," and the following scene with the Grand Inquisitor (who looks like a cross between Pimen and Captain Kangaroo). Paolo Coni holds his own as Rodrigo, but is not very affecting in his death scene.
Like Coni, the women are a bit small-scaled. Daniela Dessì, not the most fascinating of sopranos, is well suited to the hapless and trodden-upon Elisabetta. "Tu che le vanità" is capable but not riveting. Similarly, as Eboli, Luciana D'Intino makes all the right moves as Eboli, and her "O don fatale" gets an "A" for effort, in spite of her hammy faint at its end (for which I am blaming Zeffirelli). In the small but crucial role of the monk, Andrea Silvestrelli is impressive. His timbre makes one sit up and take notice. Eschewing his frequently hard-driven manner, Muti's sensitive conducting emphasizes the music's weight – one is reminded both of Beethoven and (again) Boris Godunov. This is production that emphasizes the intimate, human drama of Don Carlos. The crowd scenes are filled with detail in the style we expect from Zeffirelli, but it is not too distracting. The sets are grand and traditional, as are the costumes.
The presentation is basic – there is no bonus material. Even curtain calls have been omitted, except at the end, and they are abbreviated even there. Fortunately, the sound and the visuals are spectacular. This is one of the best sounding DVDs I've come across. (There are DTS and Dolby surround options, in addition to LPCM Stereo .) A 4:3 format is used for the visuals. Even though it lacks something in star power, this is a Don Carlos which should satisfy most home viewers. Recommended! (www.classical.net/music/recs/reviews/e/emi99442dvda.php)