Verdi: Don Carlo
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Teatro Regios 2013 revival of their highly successful 2006 production of Verdis Don Carlo celebrates the 40th anniversary of the theatres 1973 reopening. With traditional staging and lavish costume design, the production garnered high acclaim in the national and international press. Shown here in the four-act version, Don Carlo is the fascinating tale of father-son power struggles, adultery and love that borders on incest. The cast under the powerful baton of Gianandrea Noseda is headed by renowned Mexican tenor Ramón Vargas, and also features Ludovic Tézier, who has been hailed as one of the best Verdian singers of our time. (ResMusica) ""Without doubt, the Argentinian directors [Hugo de Ana] production is one of the best around, for the quality of sets and costumes, for the traditional yet modern / high-tech look, for the theatrical sense and the wisdom in all details and gestures for every cast member, and for the highest philological attention to every word of the libretto.(Liricamente)
"Excellent work by conductor Gianandrea Noseda, his expert Torinese forces and a solid cast make this well-filmed 2013 performance attractive." --Opera News Video Reviews, June 2015
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Verdi hacked at his original five-act Don Carlo to come up with this four-act version that was presented in Milan in 1884 because he'd learned other opera houses were making their own drastic cuts. Lopped off was the entire first act, in which the Spanish infante Carlo and his betrothed Elisabeth, the daughter of the king of France, meet and fall in love, only to learn she has instead been given to Carlo's father, King Philip II, to seal a peace treaty. Without that background, the remaining torso loses much of its resonance, sort of like a Ring without a Rheingold.
Even the bowdlerized four-act version has its glories, and the Turin show still has potential. Costumes are luxurious, the sets -- if spare -- look appropriate, and the cast is full of well-known names such as tenor Ramón Vargas as Carlo, mezzo Barcellona, bass Ildar Abdrazakov (who recently sang Prince Igor at the Met), and baritone Ludovic Tézier, who has gained a reputation in Verdi roles. That it all misfires has to be laid at the feet of conductor Gianandrea Noseda and director Hugo de Ana.
Under de Ana's direction, this production has an especially confusing start. The first scene of Act I, which occurs after King Philip and Elisabeth have married, is set in a monastery where monks are praying for the soul of the long-deceased Emperor Charles V, Carlo's grandfather. But it appears that Charles is just now being buried and that a funeral for him is taking place. So when Philip and Elisabeth enter to pay homage at Charles' tomb, someone who didn't know Philip had been king for several years could easily be lost trying to figure out the timeline.
At any rate, Noseda's conducting is uninspired, and perhaps because the orchestra is dull, the singers seldom take flight. Stage movement is stilted. Characters stand and deliver instead of interacting. In what should be the biggest spectacle -- the auto-da-fé at the end of Act II -- no flames blaze up, and you'll have to look quick to notice any heretics on stage. Two scenes that help with continuity are omitted. At the start of Act II, Elisabeth doesn't exchange costumes with Eboli, which ties in the Veil Song with the action and explains why Carlo mistakes Eboli for Elisabeth. And when the mob threatens Philip after Posa is killed in Act III, Eboli doesn't show up to follow through on her promise to rescue Carlo, who simply disappears in the crowd.
As for the principals, Vargas doesn't leave a distinct impression. When Tézier sings acceptably as Posa, wooden acting spoils his role. Far too young to pass as Carlo's father, Abdrazakov doesn't have a secure bottom range during the first two acts, although he improves somewhat in "Ella giammai m'amò." In another 10 years, he might approach Ferruccio Furlanetto in the Royal Opera House production Don Carlo: Live From the Royal Opera House or Giacomo Prestia Don Carlo [Blu-ray] in Modena's. Soprano Svetlana Kasyan, unfortunately, is completely out of her depth as Elisabeth. Her weaknesses are painfully exposed by the time of her big Act IV aria, "Tu che le vanità." Marina Poplavskaya with the ROH and Cellia Costea in Modena demonstrate how Elisabeth can be performed. Marco Spotti's Grand Inquisitor doesn't touch Eric Halfvarson in both Salzburg's Don Carlo [Blu-ray] and the ROH stagings, but who does?
Known as the leading mezzo at Pesaro's Rossini Festival, Barcellona also has Verdi in her repertoire. She doesn't do badly, even if the most memorable feature of her performance is wearing the eyepatch that the historical Princess Eboli sports in her official portrait. Supposedly, the princess lost an eye as a teenager while fencing with one of her pages, and the eyepatch generated a mystique that she capitalized on to win admirers. Back in the 1983 Met production of Don Carlo, Grace Bumbry wore an eyepatch when she sang Eboli, but that hasn't been part of the character's costume on video since then.
Wearing an eyepatch, of course, is irrelevant to the performance of Verdi's Eboli, and Barcellona's Veil Song falls short of what Alla Pozniak does in Modena. And while her "O don fatale" elicits the most applause of the evening from the audience, Pozniak and Ekaterina Semenchuk in Salzburg deliver more drama.
It would be convenient if one 21st century video of Don Carlo pulled all its elements together to make a clear first recommendation. As it is, Verdi lovers can make a good combination by taking the best qualities of the five-act ROH and Salzburg productions, both conducted by Antonio Pappano, and the five-act Modena staging in the Tutto Verdi series. This four-act version from Turin, sad to say, doesn't make the cut.
It was the privilege of Spanish Grandees to "cover themselves", i.e. wear a hat, in the presence of the king. And only in this version both Don Carlo and Posa do so.
If the singers are not at their greatest, with one exception, they are absolutely up to their parts, the exception being Svetlana Kasyan. I have never heard her before but not only is she not ready for Elisabetta, I find her vibrato definitely annoying.
Whether Eboli wears an eyepatch or not, also seems such a trifle. For the first time, I have seen Daniela Barcellona other than in a trouser role and she made an excellent figure and, if maybe not the greatest Eboli ever, she sang definitely well enough. So did both Tezier and Abdrazakov.
The only misgivings I had before ordering this opera was Ramon Vargas in the title role. With the heroic looking Kaufmann, Alagna, Pavarotti, Domingo. Carreras in other DVDs, I was wondering how Vargas would fit in. And then, while watching the opera, I remembered that the historical Don Carlo was not a heroic figure at all. He was rather a weakling, despised by his father Phillip II whom he finally never succeeded. (The only other Don Carlo who tried to convey this fact, was Rolando Villazon.) So, although Vargas' voice may no longer be at its prime, he was just perfect for the part.
Altogether, it is one of the more satisfying - albeit not perfect - "Don Carlo"s in my collection.
While both Mr.Vargas and Ms. Kasyan have wonderful material for their fine voices, it was Mr. Abdrazakov that I simply could not take my eyes off of when he was singing. He had all of the power and subtlety and softness needed to make Philip’s struggles seem approachable and humanly believable. His Philip is definitely not two-dimensional, and the overall success of this production is a credit to his efforts.
The sets are visually appealing, while again not going over the top, assisting the telling of the underlying story and assisting with the suspension of disbelief required for the piece to be successful. The liner notes give some historical background about the overly long original opera and this revised revision (which is what is most commonly performed), as well as describing each Act in detail. Originally, the opera did not find great favor with audiences, and it is understandable why this is so – the production is solid, the talent is wonderful, but it doesn’t engage the emotions (at least for this listener) in a way that makes me want to revisit it again and again.
That being said, Conductor Gianandrea Noseda does a fine job bring the music to life, and the choral work is top-notch. This is indeed Grand Opera brought convincingly to life, and is a fine example of performers bringing their best to the roles given to them to inhabit. I am pleased to have this in my collection, and strongly recommend it as a valuable addition to any opera lover’s library.