More impressive musically than it is visually, nonetheless it's a good production
For as long as I can remember I have been a big opera enthusiast. Don Carlo may be a somewhat problematic opera with the amount of revisions done, the requirements of the score and the roles(Don Carlo is perhaps Verdi's most complex opera, especially from a conducting standpoint) and the inconclusive ending.
That said, it is still one of my favourite operas. Not only is the music phenomenal, perhaps Verdi's most complex score too, but the story is compelling and the characters too. In terms of characterisation, Phillip and Posa are probably the most interesting, but Eboli and Grand Inquisitor have significant and equally interesting roles to play in the telling of the story and I under-estimated before the complexity of the opera's titular character.
This production is mostly good, but as I've said more musically than visually. The picture quality and video directing are fine, no problem, likewise with the sound. It's just that in general, the production does look very drab. The sets have a fake marble-mausoleum look to it, not such a bad thing in hindsight, but the lighting made it rather dull-looking, plus it made no sense to use it in every scene, one or two of the Church scenes for example would have been perfect.
As for the costumes, sadly I have no better news to say about them, the light and dark shades of grey made the production visually rather joyless to watch. Elisabetta fares worst here, Amanda Roocroft is a beautiful woman but her big costume and dark make-up in a way suggest otherwise.
I was also rather disappointed in how the ending was staged. The ending in a way itself is inconclusive, but when done right it can be very poignant too. On another point of view, Verdi may have intended this theme of irresolution, and I do wish they maintained that here. My point is, in my opinion Carlo's fate was made all too clear here.
On the other hand, I do have very little to fault it musically. The orchestra are dramatic, moving and powerful and Riccardo Chailly's conducting is superb and shows off his expertise perfectly. Staging is also very effective apart from the ending, I personally don't think it was a particularly good idea to have Lloyd so far back on the stage at the start of Ella Giammai M'ammo but all the pivotal scenes particularly Dio Che Nell'Alma Infondere, O Don Fatale and Tu Che Le Vanita serve their purpose well.
Singing is terrific on the whole. Least effective for me was Amanda Roocroft as Elisabetta. Mind you she is very good in the last act, Tu Che Le Vanita was the best she was here vocally, and acts in a very poignant and dutiful manner, but at some points her singing particularly in the higher register sounds rather pushed. This is a shame, as she is a very expressive and delightful singer, who impressed me so much as Fiordiligi in the 1992 Cosi Fan Tutte(one of the best Cosis available).
Violetta Urmana is mostly very good as Eboli, albeit not outstanding. She is suitably fiery, has terrific high notes and a good if not exactly powerful or dark-centred chest voice. O Don Fatale is very emotionally committed, and her high notes sail above the orchestra with ease. The Veil Song isn't quite as good, it is well pitched and acted however it needed more lightness and some of the ornamentations are on the clunky side.
Rolando Villazon was much better than expected. Now I don't mean this in a bad way, Villazon is not a favourite as such but he is growing on me. What I mean was that I was worried he wouldn't bring the trouble or complexity of the character. Surprisingly he does. He is ardent, expressive in the singing and acts and interacts in a more understated way than you would see him in the Bel Canto roles I am more used to seeing him in. My only real complaints really in regards to Villazon are some moments that get a tad frenzied and the odd over-tensed high note, other than that he more than meets expectations.
Of the principles, I'd say that Dwayne Croft is the most consistent vocally and acting-wise. He is noble and idealistic, with sparkling interaction with Villazon in their duets together, his "orrenda, orrenda, pace" in his big scene with Phillip is genuine and his death scene is moving. His voice is a well-nurtured and musical instrument too.
That is not to dispute Robert Lloyd, who is wonderful as Phillip. True, his voice has lost some of its power, but the nobility and richness is still there. When it comes to the acting too, he nails the role, making the character scary, intelligent, conflicted and sometimes even very moving.
Nor Jakkho Ryhanen, whose Grand Inquisitor is both imposing and intimidating. The big scene between him and Phillip is wonderfully sung and acted from both basses, but it doesn't quite give me the clash of the titans feeling I get when listening to a duo like Ghiaurov and Talvela(also Furlanetto in the 1983/4 Met production), Christoff and Neri or Siepi and Hines.
The chorus are very well balanced and pitched and mostly sing accurately. Only the Veil Song really disappointed. All in all, a good Don Carlo, but for any other productions or whatever version I would pick the 1983/4 Met production, 1980 Met telecast and 1996 Chatelet performance. Of all the Don Carlos(s) in fact, the 2005 one with Vargas was the only one that didn't do anything for me. 7/10 for great singing and music, but deducted points for the rather drab costumes and sets and disappointing ending. Bethany Cox
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