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

Gluck and Bertoni at Bampton

Bampton Classical Opera’s 2014 double bill neatly balanced drollery and gravity. Rectifying the apparent prevailing indifference to the 300th centenary of Christoph Willibald Gluck birth, Bampton offered a sharp, witty production of the composer’s Il Parnaso confuso, pairing this ‘festa teatrale’ with Ferdinando Bertoni’s more sombre Orfeo.

Purcell: A Retrospective

Harry Christophers and The Sixteen Choir and Orchestra launched the Wigmore Hall’s two-year series, ‘Purcell: A Retrospective’, in splendid style. Flexibility, buoyancy and transparency were the watchwords.

Mahler: Symphony no.3 — Prom 73

It would be unfair, but one could summarise this concert with the words, ‘Senator, you’re no Leonard Bernstein.’

Los Angeles Opera Opens with La traviata

On September 13, Los Angeles Opera opened its 2014-2015 season with a revival of Marta Domingo’s updated, Art Deco staging of Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata. It starred Nino Machaidze as Violetta, Arturo Chácon-Cruz as Alfredo, and Plácido Domingo as Giorgio Germont. The conductor was Music Director James Conlon.

Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, 2014

In its annual concert previewing the forthcoming season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its “Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park” during the past weekend to a large audience of enthusiastic listeners.

Susannah in San Francisco

Come to think of it the 1950‘s were operatically rich years in America compared to other decades in the recent past. Just now the San Francisco Opera laid bare an example, Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah.

Xerxes, ENO

Nicholas Hytner’s production of Handel’s Xerxes (Serse) at English National Opera (ENO) is nearly 30 years old, and is the oldest production in ENO’s stable.

San Diego Opera Opens 2014-2015 Season

On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.

Otello at ENO

English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.

Anna Nicole, back with a bang!

It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Norma in San Francisco

It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).

Joyce DiDonato starts Wigmore Hall new season

There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.

Aida at Aspendos Opera and Ballet Festival

In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.

St Matthew Passion, Prom 66

Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.

Glimmerglass: Butterfly Leads the Pack

Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.

Operalia, the World Opera Competition, Showcases 2014 Winners

On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.

Elektra at Prom 59

The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine Goerke in the title role.

Powerful Mahler Symphony no 2 Harding, BBC Proms London

Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.

Nina Stemme's stunning Strauss Salome, BBC Proms London

The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings

Santa Fe Opera Presents Updated, at One Point Up-ended, Don Pasquale

On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!

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):