Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

Early Swedish opera - Stenhammer world premiere

The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

Semyon Bychkov heading to NYC and DC with Glanert and Mahler

Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.

Lost Stravinsky re-united with Rimsky-Korsakov, Gergiev, Mariinsky

Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.

Philippe Jaroussky at the Wigmore Hall: Baroque cantatas by Telemann and J.S.Bach

On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.

The new Queen of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement, but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment “is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.

Falstaff at Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.

Gothic Schubert : Wigmore Hall, London

Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.

Rusalka, AZ Opera

On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.

First new Ring Cycle in 40 Years, Leipzig

Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.

San Jose’s Beta-Carotene Rich Barber

You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.

Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden

If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.

Fierce in War, dazzling in Peace: Joyce DiDonato at the Concertgebouw

Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.

Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 2

Honours yet again to Oehms Classics who understand the importance of excellence. A composer as good, and as individual, as Walter Braunfels deserves nothing less.

Simplicius Simplicissimus

I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.

Lucia di Lammermoor at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Simon Keenlyside as Rodrigo [Photo by Catherine Ashmore courtesy of the Royal Opera House]
11 Oct 2009

Don Carlo at Covent Garden

The full five-act version of Verdi’s historical epic, Don Carlo, makes for a long evening, but thanks to some fine singing and to the driving sweep of the baton of Semyon Bychkov this four-and-a-half hour performance raced by.

Giuseppe Verdi: Don Carlo

Don Carlo: Jonas Kaufmann; Elisabetta di Valois: Marina Poplavskaya; Rodrigo: Simon Keenlyside; Philip II: Ferruccio Furlanetto; Princess Eboli: Marianne Cornetti; Tebaldo: Pumeza Matshikiza; Grand Inquisito: John Tomlinson; Conte di Lerma: Robert Anthony Gardiner; Carlos V: Robert Lloyd; Flemish Deputies: Dawid Kimberg, Changhan Lim, David Stout, John Cunningham, Daniel Grice, Lukas Jakobski; Voice from Heaven: Eri Nakamura. Director: Nicholas Hytner. Designs: Bob Crowley. Lighting Design: Mark Henderson. Movement: Scarlett Mackmin. Fight Director: Terry King. Conductor: Semyon Bychkov.

Above: Simon Keenlyside as Rodrigo

All photos by Catherine Ashmore courtesy of the Royal Opera House

 

Bychkov’s was a controlled reading; but, while some may argue that he kept the leash too tight, he appreciated the need for contrast - now urgent, now relaxed. Moreover, he draw from the ROH orchestra a startling array of colours and textures, paying scrupulous attention to the exquisite details within the instrumental fabric and drawing the delicacies of the inner voices to the surface. A perfect canvas upon which to play out this drama of political violence and private trauma.

This is an opera about confrontations. From the first Fontainebleau scene - when indicatively the lovers’ triplet ‘resistance motif’ is introduced to the text, ‘The fatal hour is nigh’, against the jaunty, repetitious theme of chorus - an unremitting battle wages between Church and State, father and son, individual and society, love and duty. Such oppositions are enhanced by Verdi’s contrasting vocal roles - the bright baritone of Posa juxtaposed with the deep resonance of Philip, the indomitable fury of Princess Eboli distinguished from the vulnerability and near-hysteria of Carlos.

Cornetti.pngMarianne Cornetti as Princess Eboli

So, it is no surprise that it was the epic confrontations between the Spanish King Philip II - the real centre of this work, despite the precedence given to his son in the title - and first Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa, and then the Grand Inquisitor which were the driving force of the opera. Ferruccio Furlanetto’s Philip II is a disturbed, troubled man. His struggle with Simon Keenlyside’s Posa, signalled by an electrifying outburst of orchestral thunder, provided the first moment of chilling dramatic intensity, a shocking insight into the fire of Inquisitional Spain, where religious fervour, political zeal and personal strife intermingle. This was a masterly conception by Furlanetto, every note, every gesture placed with consummate care and conviction. He released a beautiful stream of sound which did not diminish his steely authority, convincing us that this really was the man whose very name could make all of Europe tremble. This Philip has genuine regal gravitas; which makes his demise in Act 4 all the more astonishing and affecting, as the sonorous bass, underpinned by a beautiful ’cello solo, reflects on his loneliness and despairingly acknowledges his empty, loveless marriage. Having revealed his humanity, in Act 5 Philip faces the Grand Inquisitor, in a hostile confrontation between State and Church. John Tomlinson’s ghastly Inquisitor was certainly the -physical embodiment of terror in his blood-red robes, but did not always match the ominous visual effects with sufficient vocal intimidation and menace.

Does Italian opera need Italian voices? Perhaps not, but the other members of the cast, no matter how well trained in Italian technique, or schooled in language and diction, simply don’t possess the same innate sense of the tradition. Does this matter? Keenlyside may not have a truly Italianate sound but he brought a relentless energy and vibrancy to the role, perfectly conveying an obsessive fervour which really could sway the unworldly Carlos from idyllic love to political idealism.

Kaufmann_Opoplavskaya.pngMarina Poplavskaya as Elizabeth of Valois and Jonas Kaufmann as Don Carlos

Carlos himself was performed here by Jonas Kaufmann, a baritonal tenor who looked, acted and sang the part with impressive skill, sustained musicianship and stamina. Carlos is difficult role to pin down: is he a romantic dreamer, à la Werther, or a genuine political idealist? He’s certainly come in for some criticism … while it’s probably true that all Verdian tenors commit acts which lead to their deaths or to the deaths of those they love, Carlos has been attacked for his ‘inner paralysis’ which condemns him to inaction, for his self-destructive rage and empty threats, and described as a man who is ‘incapable of coherent political thought’. Part of the problem is the change of emphasis which results from the inclusion or excision of the opening Fontainebleau scene. If it is included, Carlos appears as a man of sensibility, living in a world of inner dreams. But, in this production, Kaufmann later chose to focus on Carlos’ political idealism, an aspect somewhat at odds with the romantic dreamer of the opening; and he never quite convinced that the passion for which so much is sacrificed is genuine and not self-delusory. Kaufmann’s Carlos is easily influenced by the fervent Posa, but he seems perhaps too ready to sublimate his love for Elizabeth to the ideological principles that define Rodrigo’s existence. Their Act 2 duet, a heroic hymn of brotherhood, suffered from the similarity of their vocal timbre, the rather passive direction and a tempo that lacked urgency: perhaps the problem is that the melody that embodies the warmth of their personal friendship also has to serve as an anthem of their political commitment to the liberation of Flanders.

That said, there was undoubtedly a dramatic chemistry between the two men, and this was a musically compelling performance from Kaufmann. In scene one, when the chorus have departed and fall silent, Carlos’ line disintegrates and in a breathless wavering over a coda-like orchestral elaboration of the chorus’s theme, Kaufmann used his mezza voce to great effect.

Marina Poplavskaya, as Elizabeth of Valois, could have made more liberal use of this sort of well-placed, controlled pianissimo. Confident and powerful, Poplavskaya rode the orchestral sound well, and created a smooth line in the upper register. Her bitter tirade after the dismissal of her lady-in-waiting for neglecting her duties when the Queen is discovered alone in the garden, demonstrated her frustration and anger, but there was little light and shade in this interpretation. Marianne Cornetti has the necessary weight for Princess Eboli but the coloratura in her Act 2 Veil Aria was hopelessly imprecise and some unsubtleties in her portrayal drew some unfortunate laughs.

The large Chorus made an imposing sound; the Act 3 auto-da-fe scene seemed less cluttered and busy than when this production was first aired, but still created an impressive spectacle. However, Hytner’s largely naturalist reading and the period costumes were rather at odds with designer Bob Crawley’s somewhat stylised sets; the stark colours, from glaring silver of ice and birch tree in opening forest scene, to glowing red of Spanish sun glaring down on conical pine trees as women gather in piazza, evoked a fairytale ambience which did not accord with the realism of Hytner’s vision and diminished the opera’s grandeur.

Despite the frustration of hearing the text sung in Italian rather than French, this was a persuasive performance, musically and dramatically, and one which achieved the necessary balance between political epic and private passion, between the grand sweeps of history and personal intimacy.

Claire Seymour

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):