I've been watching this 1985 Royal Opera House performance of one of my favorite operas, Verdi's DON CARLO. I bought it on VHS - used - for a pittance from Amazon. The Luchino Visconti production dates from 1958 when, if I recall correctly, it was all black-and-white: sets & costumes without color. That's changed over the years and it looks like the female leads may have brought their own costumes for this revival. The sets look dusty and creaky and the stage direction is routine.
Bernard Haitink on the podium does wonders with the wondrous score. The cast ranges from splendid to middling, though everyone seems committed. Robert Lloyd is a magnificent Philip II, his monologue sung with a haunting sense of foreboding, and he sits very still throughout - almost as if in a dream. Veteran Joseph Rouleau's voice retains its power and he is scary as the blind Inquisitor, his eyes eerily focussed on the hereafter. Giorgio Zancanaro has a couple of flattish moments but he has the line and the nobility of expression for Posa's music. Bruna Baglioni is a mature and rather provincial-sounding Eboli but she wisely husbands her resources so that 'O don fatale' is the apex of her performance. I saw Baglioni as an exciting Azucena in Hartford and also as Laura in GIOCONDA at the Met, both prior to this DON CARLO. Ileana Cotrubas is not a natural for Elisabetta and there are times when the big, arching lines don't work out for her. The Romanian soprano's sometimes sour timbre is not to all tastes (I feel Dmitry about to chime in here!) and her lack of a long breath-line exposes her to problems along the way. But she's always been a very touching singer in my book especially as Violetta, Mimi and her incredibly 'right' Tatyana in ONEGIN which Jan and I enjoyed so much at the Met in 1984.
I was not prepared for the very moving portrayal of Don Carlo from Luis Lima. In 1978 I saw the NYC Opera debut of this handsome Argentine tenor in a BUTTERFLY with Patricia Craig; he sang generously and quite well. Over the following years, I chanced to hear him a few times: always acceptable, never memorable. In 1998 he was singing Don Carlo at the Met and was unable to finish the performance; in 2001 he replaced Ramon Vargas in a run of TRAVIATA here and his voice was pretty much spent, though he remained a passionate interpreter and still looked good. It is his passion and his youthful appearance that make his Don Carlo in this London version so fine; using his enormous dark eyes and even his luxuriant hair, Luis Lima becomes Don Carlo.
Lima was never blessed with anything more than a serviceable instrument. Here he sings well enough if without the colour or finesse of a great Verdi stylist. But from a dramatic standpoint, he truly makes an impression. The real Don Carlo was a hunchback and reportedly mentally deranged to the point of drooling; he supposedly had a penchant for torturing small animals. In the opera he is highly romanticized, but Lima brings an 'authentic' look not only of youth but of the hunched shoulders and the wide-eyed gaze of someone bordering on madness. Carlo's brief happiness at meeting his prospective bride, Elisabetta di Valois, is quickly shattered when - for political reasons - she is wed to his father Philip II instead. His ardor and the flickering expressions of incipient madness when his bride is stolen from him are beautifully delineated by Lima. Playing off his small physical stature, Lima's unhappy prince is buffeted by every possible misfortune: he painfully pours out his heart to his 'mother' only to be cruelly rejected; Eboli offers her heart to him and when he graciously tells her he cannot love her, she becomes furious. By this time poor Luis is even talking to himself.
In prison, Carlo is visited by his only friend Rodrigo and just as the prince begins to feel some hope, the Inquisition's guards murder Rodrigo. With his friend dying in his arms, Lima reminds us that death is always hardest on those who remain behind. His expressions of utmost despair and helplessness are heart-wrenching. At the monastery of St. Juste, Carlo bids a final farewell to Elisabetta. If you've ever tried singing while you are weeping, you'll know it is well nigh impossible. But that's exactly what Luis manages to do. At the end, as the Inquisitor's guards close in on him, Carlo is rescued by the ghost of his grandfather - the Emperor Charles V - and drawn into the safety of the cloister. Lima's total incomprehension of all that has befallen him is summarized as he staggers blindly towards oblivion.