Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

ETO Autumn 2020 Season Announcement: Lyric Solitude

English Touring Opera are delighted to announce a season of lyric monodramas to tour nationally from October to December. The season features music for solo singer and piano by Argento, Britten, Tippett and Shostakovich with a bold and inventive approach to making opera during social distancing.

Love, always: Chanticleer, Live from London … via San Francisco

This tenth of ten Live from London concerts was in fact a recorded live performance from California. It was no less enjoyable for that, and it was also uplifting to learn that this wasn’t in fact the ‘last’ LfL event that we will be able to enjoy, courtesy of VOCES8 and their fellow vocal ensembles (more below …).

Dreams and delusions from Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper at Wigmore Hall

Ever since Wigmore Hall announced their superb series of autumn concerts, all streamed live and available free of charge, I’d been looking forward to this song recital by Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper.

Treasures of the English Renaissance: Stile Antico, Live from London

Although Stile Antico’s programme article for their Live from London recital introduced their selection from the many treasures of the English Renaissance in the context of the theological debates and upheavals of the Tudor and Elizabethan years, their performance was more evocative of private chamber music than of public liturgy.

A wonderful Wigmore Hall debut by Elizabeth Llewellyn

Evidently, face masks don’t stifle appreciative “Bravo!”s. And, reducing audience numbers doesn’t lower the volume of such acclamations. For, the audience at Wigmore Hall gave soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn and pianist Simon Lepper a greatly deserved warm reception and hearty response following this lunchtime recital of late-Romantic song.

The Sixteen: Music for Reflection, live from Kings Place

For this week’s Live from London vocal recital we moved from the home of VOCES8, St Anne and St Agnes in the City of London, to Kings Place, where The Sixteen - who have been associate artists at the venue for some time - presented a programme of music and words bound together by the theme of ‘reflection’.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny explore Dowland's directness and darkness at Hatfield House

'Such is your divine Disposation that both you excellently understand, and royally entertaine the Exercise of Musicke.’

Paradise Lost: Tête-à-Tête 2020

‘And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven … that old serpent … Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.’

Joyce DiDonato: Met Stars Live in Concert

There was never any doubt that the fifth of the twelve Met Stars Live in Concert broadcasts was going to be a palpably intense and vivid event, as well as a musically stunning and theatrically enervating experience.

‘Where All Roses Go’: Apollo5, Live from London

‘Love’ was the theme for this Live from London performance by Apollo5. Given the complexity and diversity of that human emotion, and Apollo5’s reputation for versatility and diverse repertoire, ranging from Renaissance choral music to jazz, from contemporary classical works to popular song, it was no surprise that their programme spanned 500 years and several musical styles.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields 're-connect'

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields have titled their autumn series of eight concerts - which are taking place at 5pm and 7.30pm on two Saturdays each month at their home venue in Trafalgar Square, and being filmed for streaming the following Thursday - ‘re:connect’.

Lucy Crowe and Allan Clayton join Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO at St Luke's

The London Symphony Orchestra opened their Autumn 2020 season with a homage to Oliver Knussen, who died at the age of 66 in July 2018. The programme traced a national musical lineage through the twentieth century, from Britten to Knussen, on to Mark-Anthony Turnage, and entwining the LSO and Rattle too.

Choral Dances: VOCES8, Live from London

With the Live from London digital vocal festival entering the second half of the series, the festival’s host, VOCES8, returned to their home at St Annes and St Agnes in the City of London to present a sequence of ‘Choral Dances’ - vocal music inspired by dance, embracing diverse genres from the Renaissance madrigal to swing jazz.

Royal Opera House Gala Concert

Just a few unison string wriggles from the opening of Mozart’s overture to Le nozze di Figaro are enough to make any opera-lover perch on the edge of their seat, in excited anticipation of the drama in music to come, so there could be no other curtain-raiser for this Gala Concert at the Royal Opera House, the latest instalment from ‘their House’ to ‘our houses’.

Fading: The Gesualdo Six at Live from London

"Before the ending of the day, creator of all things, we pray that, with your accustomed mercy, you may watch over us."

Met Stars Live in Concert: Lise Davidsen at the Oscarshall Palace in Oslo

The doors at The Metropolitan Opera will not open to live audiences until 2021 at the earliest, and the likelihood of normal operatic life resuming in cities around the world looks but a distant dream at present. But, while we may not be invited from our homes into the opera house for some time yet, with its free daily screenings of past productions and its pay-per-view Met Stars Live in Concert series, the Met continues to bring opera into our homes.

Precipice: The Grange Festival

Music-making at this year’s Grange Festival Opera may have fallen silent in June and July, but the country house and extensive grounds of The Grange provided an ideal setting for a weekend of twelve specially conceived ‘promenade’ performances encompassing music and dance.

Monteverdi: The Ache of Love - Live from London

There’s a “slide of harmony” and “all the bones leave your body at that moment and you collapse to the floor, it’s so extraordinary.”

Music for a While: Rowan Pierce and Christopher Glynn at Ryedale Online

“Music for a while, shall all your cares beguile.”

A Musical Reunion at Garsington Opera

The hum of bees rising from myriad scented blooms; gentle strains of birdsong; the cheerful chatter of picnickers beside a still lake; decorous thwacks of leather on willow; song and music floating through the warm evening air.

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):