Verdi - Don Carlos

(Theatre du Chatelet, Paris)

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Details At A Glance

Category Opera Booklet
Main Menu Audio and Animation
Listing - Cast and Crew
DVD-ROM Extras
Year Released 1996
Running Time 211:12 minutes
RSDL/Flipper RSDL (87:05)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Selection then Menu
Region 2,3,4,5,6 Director Luc Bondy (Opera)
Yves André Hubert (Video)
NVC Arts
Warner Vision Australia
Starring Roberto Alagna
Thomas Hampson
Karita Mattila
Jose Van Dam
Waltraud Meier
Case Transparent Amaray
RPI $39.95 Music Giuseppe Verdi

Pan & Scan/Full Frame No English (Dolby Digital 5.0, 448 Kb/s)
English (Dolby Digital 2.0, 192 Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.75:1
16x9 Enhancement
Original Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking No
Subtitles English
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, during credits

Plot Synopsis

    Well this is pretty heavy going stuff indeed, and pretty much the sort of stuff that separates the opera lover from the non-opera lover. I guess I must fall into the latter category as I really did find this heavy going, far more so than any other opera DVD that I have reviewed. This is in fact the full five Act original version of the opera sung in the original French. At just on three and a half hours long, it really is the sort of thing that anyone but true opera lovers would need to spread over a couple of nights of viewing: I know, for I needed to spread the review over three nights.

    Recorded live in March 1996, it is perhaps interesting to note that the self same recording I believe is released on CD by EMI. Now that makes for an interesting point of reference about the actual quality of the performance. Pulling out my trusty copy of The Penguin Guide To Compact Discs, sure enough therein the performance is detailed. According to that revered guide, the performance is the clear first choice on CD for those requiring the original French version, and the second choice overall of any version. They basically go on to say how good the performance is, how marvellous the cast is and make a rather interesting comment about the recorded sound, which will bear enunciating in the audio transfer section of this review. So according to that guide, we are basically looking at a very good performance of this opera.

    And what exactly is the opera about? Well, take what appear to be your basic opera ingredients of love, jealousy, duplicity, retribution, intrigue, murder and mayhem, mix them all together and you have pretty much the basic story here. Elizabeth de Valois (Karita Mattila), daughter of Henri II, the King of France, is betrothed to Don Carlos (Roberto Alagna), the Infante of Spain as part of the peace deal set out in the Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis. When she accidentally meets her betrothed in the forest of Fontainebleau, she is overjoyed and is madly in love. However, plans change and shortly thereafter Elisabeth finds out that she may be marrying a Spaniard but it will not be Don Carlos, but his recently widowed father Philippe II (Jose Van Dam). She is not overjoyed by this news, but stoically understands the politics involved and agrees to marry the old bastard (well, he was old and anyone who supported and encouraged the Spanish Inquisition is a bastard in my book) on the pleadings of the people. Don Carlos is devastated by the news and seeks refuge in a monastery.

    His friend and confidant Rodrigue (Thomas Hampson), Maquis of Posa, visits to urge Don Carlos to take up the cause of the people of Flanders who are being subjugated by the brutal regime of Philippe II. He also encourages him to come clean on his feelings for the Queen, once his betrothed and now his mother. Rodrigue agrees to act as a go-between and arranges for Don Carlos to meet the Queen in seclusion at the monastery, where he begs the queen to get the King to allow him to go to Flanders to escape the torture of being in Spain and near her. After Don Carlos goes, Philippe turns up and wants to know why his Queen is alone, summarily sacks her lady-in-waiting and encourages a discourse with Rodrigue from which the latter emerges as the King's closest confidant - with a mission to find out the bond between Queen and son that the King suspects is more than mere friendship. You can probably guess where the remaining two acts head?

    By no means the most original story ever told, but then again given the setting in Europe in the 1500s that is hardly surprising. After all, history books are full of the sordid details of the goings on of European royalty. To be honest, the material really does not sustain the whole three and a half hours of this five act epic and a judicious pruning to the four act version would be very nice indeed. There is certainly no real complaint with the cast here, and they do a pretty sterling job. But then again, the cast does include some of the very best around at the moment. Roberto Alagna seems to be the flavour of the past five years or so and it is difficult to ignore his name appearing on what seems to just about every major opera to be issued on CD in that time! To be fair he is not a bad singer at all, but then again his competition at the moment is hardly the greatest. Karita Mattila has made a serious name for herself over the same sort of period through this very role and she is the highlight here as far as I am concerned. Jose Van Dam has perhaps not received the highest accolades over his career but he certainly is a very steady performer as is Thomas Hampson and they both relish the cast to work with here.

    Overall, I might have some serious qualms about the length of the opera, but there is no denying that it is well sung and the music is well played. However, I wish it were possible to give this a much warmer welcome, but the reasons why I cannot will become apparent shortly.

Transfer Quality


    This is a high definition recording for television. It is important to note this, and the fact that it is only five years old, as in general it does not display the attributes one would expect of such a recording. The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.75:1, which is about right for a widescreen television recording. The first main issue is that it is not 16x9 enhanced, and this is enormously disappointing.

    I am presuming that this is an accurate mastering of the source material, and therefore that most of the issues here relate to the source material. It is a reasonably sharp transfer throughout, but certainly does not exhibit the sort of sharpness that say we get in New Year's Concert 2001, and really ends up being a little flat looking because of it. Detail is not especially good at all, but that partly reflects the dark and dank way the stage was generally lit. Shadow detail is borderline appalling, again as a result of the way the stage was lit I suspect. It is however very frustrating to know that movement is going on in the scene but you cannot see it, and even more frustrating to see a head and some hands wandering around on stage without any sort of body at all, since the costume has blended into the dark background. I would only rate this as a reasonably clear transfer even though there does not seem to be much of an issue with grain. There did not appear to be any low level noise problems in the transfer.

    Colours are decidedly undernourished throughout the transfer, and this really does cry out for some greater colour and a whole lot of vibrancy. The general tone is towards darker colours, with lots of black it seems. This compounds a generally dark feel to the transfer anyway, with the result that the transfer does get rather depressing-looking at times. The odd scenes with some lightness to them are decidedly incongruous in the overall transfer. There did not appear to be any problems with oversaturation in the transfer apart from some slight indication in the blue lit monastery towards the very end of the opera. Colour bleed was not a problem in the transfer.

    There did not appear to be any MPEG artefacts in the transfer. There did not appear to be any film-to-video artefacts in the transfer. There did not appear to be any film artefacts in the transfer. It should be noted that the average bit rate of the encoding is around the 4 Mb/s mark throughout, and that may be an indication that trying to cram this opera onto one DVD with even a minuscule extras package and two soundtracks was perhaps not the best idea.

    This is an RSDL formatted DVD, with the layer change coming at 87:05 during the break between Acts 2 and 3. An obvious place to have the break as it is completely non-disruptive, even though it seemed a bit early for the length of the programme.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-to-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There are two soundtracks on this DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 5.0 soundtrack and an English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. Now the packaging says the soundtrack is a Dolby Digital 5.0 soundtrack and PowerDVD says it is a Dolby Digital 5.0 soundtrack, but I completely disagree with these descriptions: if this is a Dolby Digital 5.0 soundtrack, then the rear channels are silent or else missing. I heard no discernible action out of the rear channels at all.

    Obviously with opera it is very important that the vocal track is well presented in the mix, so that it comes up clearly and easily understandable. This certainly happens with the Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack, but I have no idea what happened with the Dolby Digital 5.0 soundtrack. The vocals are quite recessed and at times are very difficult to understand without turning the volume up. So you end up fiddling around with the volume control trying to get a decent balance to the sound, and to be blunt failing miserably. Now if you think I am talking out the top of my hat, the aforementioned Penguin Guide also makes comment about the sound: namely that it brings some odd balances, with the sound transferred at a lowish level. Accordingly, there would seem to be a problem with the original recording that has not been overcome in the remastering into Dolby Digital 5.0 format. There did not appear to be any audio sync problems with the transfer.

    Beyond the weird balance of the Dolby Digital 5.0 soundtrack, and the missing channels it seems, there is not a whole lot wrong with the soundtrack. The front channels provide a nice wide sound to the recording that partially compensates for the lack of natural balance in the soundtrack. Obviously there is no bass channel on offer here, and the soundtrack is free from any distortions or other problems. Overall, reasonable but clearly with some problems. The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is a slightly brighter and more open sounding effort and the whole opera sounds a lot better in this soundtrack, which I recommend as the one to listen to.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    I suppose that with the main programme running three and a half hours, any sort of extra is a huge bonus. Nonetheless, there is not an awful lot here to get the blood racing.


    Quite neatly done with some decent enough audio and animation enhancement.


    Provides a reasonable synopsis of the action in five languages. Acceptable.

Listing - Cast and Crew

    Since it is only one page and basically repeats a page out of the booklet, a bit of a waste of time and precious space it would seem.


    Extremely brief indeed and really another waste of space and time since it does not come close to the synopsis provided in the booklet.

DVD-ROM Extras

    Firing up your web browser will allow you access to a reasonable libretto in five languages, which is printable of course, an article on the opera and very brief, one paragraph, biographies for the main cast members. I don't have that much of an issue with providing a libretto this way but I really would appreciate it if they made them more printer friendly. I have a problem with having to chop down an entire forest just to provide enough paper to print the libretto out on. The article is reasonably interesting but would have made more sense being included either as normal DVD-Video content or being included in the booklet. The biographies are a waste of time and completely inadequate. You also get the obligatory direct clickable link to the NVC Arts web site (


    As far as we have been able to ascertain, there are no censorship issues with this title.

R4 vs R1

    As far as can be ascertained this has not yet been released in Region 1. However, it is unlikely that any subsequent Region 1 release would be significantly better than the Region 4 release.


    Don Carlos is something of an epic opera and despite a great cast is something of a drudge to watch. The DVD is let down by a mediocre 5.0 soundtrack and a curiously unsatisfying video transfer, even if the problem is source related. This is definitely one for the opera fan only.

    Interestingly, the picture format on the DVD packaging is described as "4:3 (16:9)". Now that to me means a full screen picture, 16x9 enhanced, which clearly is incorrect. I really wish that some consistency in the terminology could be used so as not to mislead the buying public.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris (have a laugh, check out the bio)
14th March, 2001.

Review Equipment
DVD Pioneer DV-515; S-video output
Display Sony Trinitron Wega 80cm. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built in
Amplification Yamaha RXV-795. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL