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 Performances

Guillaume Tell, Covent Garden

It is twenty-three years since Rossini’s opera of cultural oppression, inspiring heroism and tender pathos was last seen on the Covent Garden stage, but this eagerly awaited new production of Guillaume Tell by Italian director Damiano Micheletto will be remembered more for the audience outrage and vociferous mid-performance booing that it provoked — the most persistent and strident that I have heard in this house — than for its dramatic, visual or musical impact.

Aida, Opera Holland Park

With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.

Death in Venice, Garsington Opera

Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.

La Rondine Swoops Into St. Louis

If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Emmeline a Stunner in Saint Louis

Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Luminous Handel in Saint Louis

For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”

Two Women in San Francisco

Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?

Les Troyens in San Francisco

Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.

Dog Days at REDCAT

On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.

Opera Las Vegas Presents Exquisite Madama Butterfly

Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.

Yardbird, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.

Giovanni Paisiello: Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.

Princeton Festival: Le Nozze di Figaro

The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail,
Glyndebourne

Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s first great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.

German Lieder Is Given a Dramatic Twist by The Ensemble for the Romantic Century

The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.

Hans Werner Henze: Ein Landarzt and Phaedra

This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Dido and Aeneas, Spitalfields Festival

High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.

Intermezzo, Garsington Opera

Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’

Cosi fan tutte, Garsington Opera

Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.

The Queen of Spades, ENO

Based on a play, Chrysomania (The Passion for Money), by the Russian playwright Prince Alexander Shokhovskoy, Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades is, in the words of one literary critic, ‘a sardonic commentary on the human condition’.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

05 May 2013

Superlative singing: Don Carlo, Royal Opera House

Is it possible to upstage Jonas Kaufmann? Kaufmann was brilliant in this Verdi Don Carlo at the Royal Opera House, London, but the rest of the cast was so good that he was but first among equals. Don Carlo is a vehicle for stars, but this time the stars were everyone on stage and in the pit. Even the solo arias, glorious as they are, grow organically out of perfect ensemble. This was a performance that brought out the true beauty of Verdi's music.

Giuseppe Verdi : Don Carlo

Don Carlo : Jonas Kaufmann, Tebaldo : Dusica Bijelic, Elizabeth of Valoius : Anja Harteros, Count of Lerma : Pablo Bemsch, Countess of Aremberg : Elizabeth Woods, Carlos V : Robert Lloyd, Rodrigo, Marquis de Posa : Mariusz Kweicien, Philip II : Ferrucio Furlanetto, Princess Eboli : Béatrice Uria-Monzon, Priest Inquisitor : Téo Ghil, Flemish Deputies : Zhengzhong Zhou, Michel de Souza, Ashley Riches, Daniel Grice, Jihoon Kim, John Cunningham, Voice from Heaven : Susana Gaspar, Grand Inquisitor : Eric Halfvarson, Conductor : Antonio Pappano, Director : Nicholas Hytner, Revival Director : Paul Higgins, designs : Bob Crowley, Lighting : Mark Henderson

 

Act One started a little tentatively. Perhaps it takes time for the drama to unfold and Kaufmann knew how much was yet to come. His pacing was deft : when he needed to stun, his voice rang out with ferocious colour. This was a Don Carlo one could imagine defying the Spanish Empire, its violence and tyranny. His vocal authority was matched by physical energy. Kaufmann embodies the part perfectly. His interactions were outstanding. His voice balances well with Anja Harteros (Elisabetta) and Marius Kwiecien (Rodrigo), and he allowed the duets and trios to work seamlessly. There was no big name ego dominance, Kaufmann placing his art above all.

Verdi prepares us from the start for the turbulence turbulence that will meet Elizabeth of Valois. Even before she leaves home, Elisabetta experiences extreme changes of mood within a compressed period of time. Anja Harteros delineates these intense feelings deftly, without exaggeration, so they arise naturally from her singing. When she bids goodbye to the Countess of Aremberg (Elizabeth Woods), Harteros sings as though she were bidding farewell to life itself. Indeed she is, for Elisabetta is now alone, trapped in an alien world. Harteros creates Elisabetta with such conviction that she dominates the drama even when she is silent. Her presence is felt even when others are singing about her. When Harteros sings "Tu che le vanità", we feel that Elisabetta has reached valediction, after a long and tortured journey. She sings of Fontainebleau and her brief day of happiness so tenderly that the agony of "Addio, addio, bei sogni d'or, illusion perduta!" becomes truly overwhelming. Harteros and Kaufmann have taken these roles before together. Here, in London, they achieved transcendence.

Ferruccio Furlanetto was equally outstanding. His years of experience in the part give him authority. Verdi writes the part to reflect the personal austerity for which the historic Philip II was known. A solo cello introduces his big aria "Ella giammai m'amò", emphasizing the King's loneliness., despite the trappings of wealth and power around him. Later, violas and basses extend the mood of melancholy. Furlanetto sings with force, but with colour and tenderness. Because he makes us feel the man beneath the public persona, we realize that the tragedy involves Philip as well as his wife and son. Furlanetto makes us realize that the king is just as much trapped by the system as they are. "Beware the Grand Inqusitor !" he cries, for the Grand Inquisitor is perhaps the only truly evil character in this opera.

Verdi introduces the Grand Inquisitor with music that exudes menace. Slow, low rumbling sounds, suggesting a snake slithering, oozing poisonous slime. Eric Halfvarson was indisposed with a cold, but this didn't affect his singing. The Grand Inquisitor is supposed to sound diseased. "Did God not give his only Son to save the world ?". Theology is twisted for evil purposes.

Mariusz Kwiecień was a clean voiced, muscular Rodrigo, and a perfect complement to Kaufmann's Don Carlo. The dynamic between them is very good : they're both relatively youthful and fresh. This similarity is important, for it reinforces the tragedy, and the theme of sacrifice. When Kwiecień sings Rodrigo's last aria, "Per me giunto è il di supreme", he infuses it with warmth and love, so it connects with Elisabetta's farewell to life.

One of Béatrice Uria-Monzon's signature roles is Carmen, so when she sang the Pricess of Eboli, she brought a Carmen-like sharpness to the role, which was entirely in order. Her Veil Song was a showpiece, but the song is a mask, since the princess's true feelings are also hidden behind a veil. When she realizes her mistakes, her personality disintegrates. When Uria-Monzon sings of the convent, she suggests the horoor of living death.

Dusica Bijelic sang a sprightly Tebaldo. Even the Flemish Deputies made an impact greater than the size oif their parts : extremely tight ensemble, yet individually characterized. Robert Lloyd sang Carlo V credibly. The Royal Opera House Orchestra and chorus, always excellent, were on even better form than usual. Verdi is Antomio Pappano's great strength. He's inspired towards an highly individual but vivid reading which emphasizes dramatic detail. He's also a singer's conductor, who lets voices breath, as we heard so admirably.

This would have been an almost perfect Verdi Don Carlo, but is lamentably let down by the production. Originally directed by Nicholas Hytner and revived this time by Paul Higgins, it was first seen at the Royal Opera House in 2008. The designs (by Bob Crowley) feel outdated, serving little dramatic purpose. Huge expanses of space are filled with grids of holes. Perhaps these represent windows, walls or even the spying eyes that are ever present in tyrannical regimes. If the image had been developed well, it might have enhanced the paranoia that runs through this opera. Instead, the image lies inert, like a weak joke endlessly repeated. In the scene where the ladies of the court listen to the Veil Song, there's a wall of red plastic cubes which look like they've descended from Legoland for no obvious reason.

The greatest weakness of this Don Carlo was that the staging missed the deeper, more challenging levels of the opera. The monastery of Yuste is depicted by the tomb of Charles V with the name "Carlos" engraved in huge letters so they can't possibly be missed. Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor renounced his power and retreated into the monastery where he died ten years before the Revolt of the Netherlands.

Opera isn't history. But when a composer like Verdi adapts history for art, there is a reason. In this production, the political aspects of the story are downplayed. Even the asceticism of Charles V and Philip II is sacrificed to decorative imperative, although the words "addio, bei sogni d'or, illusion perduta!" pertain to more than Elisabetta. This is the kind of production that gives modern staging a bad reputation. Yet because it's comic book cute, it's probably popular. Staging is much more than decor. Like every other element in a production, it should contribute to meaning and drama, rather than distract. A cast of this exceptional quality deserved better.

Anne Ozorio

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):