Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Dolora Zajick Premieres Composition

At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.

Santa Fe Opera Presents Huang Ruo's Sun Yat-sen

By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.

Britten War Requiem - Andris Nelsons, CBSO, BBC Prom 47

In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.

Santa Fe Opera Presents an Imaginative Carmen

Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.

Elgar Sea Pictures : Alice Coote, Mark Elder Prom 31

Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.

Berio Sinfonia, Shostakovich, BBC Proms

Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.

Four countertenors : Handel Rinaldo Glyndebourne

Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.

Santa Fe Opera Presents The Impresario and Le Rossignol

On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.

Barber in the Beehive State

Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.

Stravinsky : Oedipus Rex, BBC Proms

In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Santa Fe Opera Presents a Passionate Fidelio

Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.

Rameau Grand Motets, BBC Proms

Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.

Adriana Lecouvreur, Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission.

Count Ory, Dead Man Walking
and La traviata in Des Moines

If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.

Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass, BBC Proms

Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927.

Donizetti and Mozart, Jette Parker Young Artists Royal Opera House, London

With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.

Il turco in Italia at the Aix Festival

Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Roberto Alagna [Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera]
03 Dec 2010

Don Carlo, Metropolitan Opera

It may be as well to put matters in context by saying that Don Carlo is a favorite opera of mine (and of all Verdi lovers), and that I found the Met’s new staging highly satisfactory, vocally very good if less than top flight, orchestrally thrilling—and that I hope to catch it again this season. (Interesting rumors have been heard about the alternate tenor.)

Giuseppe Verdi: Don Carlo

Elisabeth: Marina Poplavskaya; Eboli: Anna Smirnova; Carlo: Roberto Alagna; Posa: Simon Keenlyside; King Philip: Ferruccio Furlanetto; Grand Inquisitor: Eric Halfvarson; Friar: Alexei Tarnovitsky. Production by Nicholas Hytner. Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Performance of November 26.

Above: Roberto Alagna as Don Carlo

All photos by Ken Howard courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera

 

The Met, perhaps because this Nicholas Hytner production has been borrowed from Covent Garden where it has been playing for two years, has for once not made the mistake of undercutting a grand opera (such as Boris Godunov) by staging it as if it were a chamber drama, or staging intimate dramas (like The Nose and From the House of the Dead) as if they were grand operas. The new Don Carlo lets Verdi’s grandest work be grand, complete with massed forces and shocking coups de théâtre.

DON_CARLO_Furlanetto_and_Po.gifFerruccio Furlanetto as King Philip and Marina Poplavskaya as Elisabeth

The problem Verdi set himself in Don Carlo, following Schiller’s 1787 verse drama, was to represent political conflict with individual characters without sacrificing their individuality. This difficulty lies in the way of stage directors as well: If the figures are too personal, the issues fade, become unreal; if the political factors take the foreground, the characters may forfeit our sympathy. Verdi’s individuals each go through a soul-struggle before our eyes and ears; their agony brings them tragic stature and makes the conflict rending society (then and now) between individual conscience and reasons of state more vivid to us. For both Schiller and Verdi, the drama is the protest of the individual against the crushing demands of the tyrannical state, and though the focus of their sympathies is never in doubt, they fully state the case for the latter to create a richer tragedy.

DON_CARLO_Smirnova_as_Eboli.gifAnna Smirnova as Eboli

It wasn’t an easy birth. Verdi ultimately created three performing versions of the score; a fourth, drawing on cuts made before the 1867 premiere, was devised for James Levine at the Met in 1979. The current Met version is Verdi’s number three: Five acts sung in Italian translation, no ballet (only done in Vienna nowadays), no war-weary introduction (resurrected from opening night discards for Levine). It is a measure of the composer’s genius that, faced with the conflicting demands of story, persona, history and politics, he produced a masterpiece that has become an audience favorite.

Hytner stages Don Carlo in the three favorite colors of Spain: crimson, gold and black. Anyone dressed otherwise (the French court in blue, the Flemish envoys in brown) is clearly an outsider, and the chorus costumes are repetitive, which makes the main characters stand out. The portrait Carlo gives Elisabetta when he first meets her at Fontainebleau is in a crimson locket, which stands out against his black costume and her white one. In Act IV, when the King finds the portrait, it is recognizably the same crimson locket. The set often features a stylized black wall of small, rat-hole windows, a fortress or a prison for Carlo, cutting him off from human contact—but it also becomes the spy-filled court for the King’s study. Elisabetta is first seen as rather a hoyden, in cheerful silver French court dress, romping through the woods and firing a musket at (let us assume) deer. The contrast of her uninhibited behavior and flowing golden tresses with the rigid figure she plays in black or red after her wedding makes the proper point.

DON_CARLO_Keenlyside_and_Al.gifRoberto Alagna as Don Carlo and Simon Keenlyside as Posa

On the not-so-excellent side, Hytner appears to miss the point of Eboli’s Veil. That lady enters with a flamboyant showpiece about a king who accidentally woos his own veiled wife; thus Verdi subtly lets us know she has secrets of her own—she is in love with Carlo, but is the king’s mistress. (In Schiller, she is also the Queen’s false friend; Verdi couldn’t work that in.) When next we meet her, in the garden scene, she is veiled and Carlo makes love to her by mistake. Then, when the Queen learns of her treachery, with unconscious irony she orders Eboli to choose “between exile and the Veil,” that is, a nunnery. Hytner misses this through-line, which is not important. What is important is that we understand how Eboli, in the garden scene, deduces that Carlo loves the Queen. In the omitted previous scene, Eboli and the Queen exchanged veils; some Ebolis take off the veil and notice it again when Carlo recoils from her avowals, realizing only then that he thought he was making love to some other lady. Hytner’s Eboli, in contrast, keeps the veil on her head and simply makes a guess out of thin air. This is not thoughtful theater.

Another character whose potential Hytner seemed to miss was the mysterious Friar, who turns out to be the King’s abdicated, possibly dead, father, Emperor Charles V. Alexei Tarnovitsky has a rumbly bass with no suggestion of supernatural conscience, but to have him simply stroll on to interrupt the family tragedy forfeits the awe Verdi and his librettists hoped to create. The musical excitement of the opera’s conclusion appears to have no connection at all to the movements on stage at this supreme moment.

DON_CARLO_Poplavskaya_and_A.gifMarina Poplavskaya as Elisabeth and Roberto Alagna as Don Carlo

The leading singers at the second performance of the season were all good, though only Ferruccio Furlanetto’s King Philip held his own with memories of the Golden Age—my own personal Golden Age in this opera. Furlanetto growled and barked at first, then, in his two great duets (Posa in Act II; Grand Inquisitor in Act IV) and the sad monologue in his study that is the heart of the opera, began to soar and resonate: deep sound, clear and musical, but pulsing with thought. His way of removing his hat to wipe or clutch his brow at climaxes in the action was of a piece with this: very personal if not quite kingly. His burly dignity matched the dignity of his singing. He, and the viewer, never forgot he was the figure of power, however shattered—and which king it was, too, for like the real Philip II, he is always fiddling with papers, carrying his work about with him everywhere.

Roberto Alagna sang Carlo brashly and often beautifully. His “Io la vidi” seemed now and then to be shorter or longer than the proper placement of words on notes, as if he unconsciously remembered singing it in his native French (to which language the music was, after all, composed)—it is a pity that the opera has never been heard at the Met in the original tongue when it has been so heard in Boston, San Francisco and Seattle, to say nothing of Paris and Vienna.

Marina Poplavskaya produces a Verdi-sized sound of great depth and luster; it’s been a long time since we had such an Elisabetta. That said, the role is long and can tax the hardiest; in both her arias, Poplavskaya ran short of breath before the end. Her first duet with Carlo was promising, but her cries for justice in the study scene not especially effective. Sometimes she sounds wonderful and sometimes she is inaudible just when one would like her voice to emerge from the pack. It is a puzzling, interesting voice.

DON_CARLO_Halfvarson_and_Fu.gifFerruccio Furlanetto as King Philip and Eric Halfvarson as Grand Inquisitor

Anna Smirnova has the plummy Russian mezzo deep tones that make one think of Borodina, but Borodina could handle the high notes as well, and Smirnova is hit or miss: I wouldn’t trust her with Dalila or Carmen. Her Song of the Veil drew proper attention to herself, but she lacked both sensuality and wrath in the garden scene. “O don fatale” was her best work of the night, as it should be, but there were phrases produced inexactly, that flew off into the wings.

Good Posas can be vocally imposing (Merrill, Milnes) or thoughtfully so (Hynninen, Hampson, Alan Titus). Simon Keenlyside is an interesting Posa, an effective actor—if anything perhaps too individual for the courtier-confidante he must seem to be—with an ingratiating sound that does not quite fill the Met. He has to act harder because his voice simply can’t match Furlanetto or Alagna for power. As with his Hamlet, I felt that performing a role in smaller houses does not serve him well here. He should come to the Met, if he comes, in something he has not sung elsewhere.

Eric Halfvarson impressed as the Grand Inquisitor, Jennifer Check made an unusually able Celestial Voice (was she mic’d?), Layla Claire a pleasant Tebaldo, and Alexei Tarnovitsky a not very awe-inspiring Friar/Charles V.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin has a genuine feel for dramatic propulsion and kept the enormous work in constant motion. He has a graceful touch with a score that can be ponderous; he makes the melodies sing. Scene followed scene followed scene, but there was no slackening of tension, no moment when we were not savoring Verdi’s “tinta,” the specific color he devised for each of his operas, and were not eager to hear more.

John Yohalem

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):