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An uneven performance but watchable

Author: TheLittleSongbird from United Kingdom
13 May 2012

Don Carlo has always been one of my favourite Verdis, potentially like at the end(which is inconclusive somewhat) it is problematic but the compelling story overall and magnificent music are big selling points. This 2008 La Scala production is not bad, it is certainly watchable particularly compared to the 2005 production starring Vargas, but it is not one of my favourites like the 1984 Met, 1980 Met and 1996 Chatelet performances. Visually it is not bad. You can tell that Stephane Braunschweig put a lot of thought into the set design and what impact they should have. And they did look great, bearing at times a slight similarity to the 2004 Amsterdam performance albeit not as dreary. The costumes are suitably opulent, especially Elisabetta's, apart from some anachronistic ones in the Auto-Da-Fe scene. The technical values of the DVD are quite good if not quite great, the picture quality is clear, the video directing is well done if occasionally relying too much on the fading technique and the sound itself is only serviceable, coming across across as muffled.

Musically, the production is pretty outstanding. The orchestral playing is rich in sound and the big moments always do sound powerful and nuanced. The chorus are perhaps too cluttered dramatically but sing with great balance and attention to musicality. There are a few occasions where Daniele Gatti's conducting is plodding like with Elisabetta's Act 4 aria, but most of the time, especially the friendship duet in Act 1 and the second half of Act 3 with Posa, it is brilliant. Braunschweig's stage direction was uneven for me. There are some great ideas, such as the use of the upper part of the stage representing the past and childhood and the lower half signifying the present in a more tense and threatening time, and the use of silent actors for Carlo, Elisabetta and Posa during the Friendship Duet and the Act 4 aria of Elisabetta. Where he isn't so good is the direction of the singers(with the exception of Ferruccio Furlanetto), which overall was bland and static. The Friendship Duet was brilliant musically, but was empty everywhere else, having the Friendship/Oath duet without a sense of friendship is like having Fred Flintstone but without the Yabba Dabba Doo.

On the whole the singing was of a good standard, but the acting from at least half the principals really brought the side down. But the only person who was truly outstanding was Ferruccio Furlanetto as King Phillip. The voice is rich and powerful, if not quite as youthful under Karajan in 1986, and the acting perfectly shows Phillip as a regal, scary and movingly conflicted ruler. I didn't think Dolora Zajick and Dalibor Jenis were bad either, in fact they were quite good. Zajick is vocally without any problems as Eboli, and she does show the Princess' sad, fiery and vindictive side. There are times however where she does look very tight-lipped, which can get annoying after a while. Jenis has a beautiful voice and his technique is solid and his presence is noble, idealistic and affecting but the rapport between his fellow cast members is lacking especially in the Friendship Duet.

Anatoly Kotcherga was not the worst of the performers, but I found him to be the most disappointing. Vocally he is gripping as The Grand Inquisitor, but in terms of stage presence he is nowhere near terrifying enough, and you know there's something wrong when Phillip is acting scarier than the Grand Inquisitor, considering what is happening in one of the greatest duets in all opera it should be the other way around. I blame Braunschweig for this because I have seen Kotcherga as Shaklovity in the 1989 production of Khovanshchina so I know he is capable of showing that side to him. Fiorenza Cedolins is inconsistent. Lovely she looks and generally she sings beautifully, even with occasional squalliness(nowhere near as bad as her Nedda in the Zurich Pagliacci though) and some un-Italianate vowel singing, but she never riveted me and doesn't emote while performing. The real weak link was Stuart Neill as Carlo. The role is not an easy one, but still that shouldn't excuse Neill giving a rather poor account of it, and no I don't mean his physique. I mean his non-existent acting skills, sometimes he doesn't even move at all, and his singing, which sounds as though he thinks he's singing Otello but with blustering and inelegant phrasing.

In conclusion, a watchable Don Carlo but I found it too uneven to heartily recommend it. 6/10 Bethany Cox

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