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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Don Carlo

The Met revives Verdi's bleakest (and longest) opera...again.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Ferruccio Furlanetto remains a staple of the Met's revival of Don Carlo.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2010 The Metropolitan Opera.
Verdi conceived of Don Carlos (its original title) as a five-act grand opera for Paris, the center of the operatic world in 1866. (The Met performs the opera in Italian, using the composer's five-act 1883 revision. For linguistic reasons, the "s" disappears from the title.) There were rumors in the off-season that this revival would be sung in the original French...but no such luck, it's in Italian.

Based on a play by Friedrich Schiller, Don Carlo is the story of the son of Philip II, prince of Spain and his struggles against his father's oppressive regime. The historical Don Carlos was described as a sadist who suffered from head injuries and an overwhelming desire to murder his father and seize the throne. Schiller's play re-imagined this unattractive character as as a love-struck youth. whose former fiancée has been married off to his father. The drama plays out against the background of Philip's court, with intrigue, assassination and the burning of heretics all central to the labyrinthine plot.

Although the infante is the title role, the meatiest part in Don Carlo is Philip (Filippo) himself, played here by the now legendary bass Ferruccio Furlanetto. Mr. Furlanetto has sung the role at the Met twenty-three times. Audiences will be looking forward to his great Act IV bass aria "Ella giammi m'amo ("She never loved me") with great anticipation.

The cast for this revival features tenor Yonghoon Lee in the title role, Barbara Frittoli as Queen Elisabeth, and mezzo Ekaterina Gubonova as Princess Eboli, the femme fatale whose simultaneous amour fou for Carlo and Philip proves fatal to some of the main characters.. Expect grand orchestral gestures from the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra under the baton of Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who will impart a sense of genuine French style even as the Met (once more) decides to sing this opera in an Italian translation.

Don Carlo opens March 30, 2015.

Recording Recommendations
(Ed. Note: The following content is excerpted from an earlier Superconductor article, Don Carlo on Disc: an Audio-da-fé.)
There are many available recordings of Don Carlo. The really good ones are sung in Italian, and are the five-act versions. Considering that a four-act Don Carlo will also fit on the same number of discs (three) we can quickly eliminate the sets by Riccardo Muti and Herbert von Karajan.

Two in Italian

Royal Opera House of Covent Garden cond. Carlo Maria Giulini
Don Carlo: Placído Domingo
Elisabeth: Montserrat Caballe
Eboli: Shirley Verrett
Rodrigo: Sherrill Milnes
Philip: Ruggero Raimondi
The Grand Inquisitor: Giovanni Foiani

This is a definitive recording of the five-act version with a great Verdi conductor who knows the opera back-to-front. Placído Domingo and Montserrat Caballe are appealing together in the first two acts. Milnes and Domingo are a great pair in the big duet scenes. The late Shirley Verrett rocks the "Song of the Veil" and "O Don Fatale." Raimondi is great casting as the King, and his duet with Giovanni Foiani is tremendously powerful.

Chorus and Orchestra of La Scala cond. Gabriele Santini
Don Carlo: Flaviano Labo
Elisabeth: Antonietta Stella
Eboli: Fiorenza Cossotto
Rodrigo: Ettore Bastianini
Philip: Boris Christoff
The Grand Inquisitor: Ivo Vinco

(The Solti recording is most people's choice for an alternate. But I don't like his Verdi!)

This long-out-of-print DG recording has Boris Christoff as King Philip and great stereo sound. The choral singing is a little rough, as is the erstwhile Carlo of tenor Flaviano Labo, but this version of the five-act score has a raw edge and vitality that makes it an intriguing alternative to the Giulini. It's been reissued as part of a mammoth (and dirt cheap) DG box set: Verdi: Great Operas From La Scala. If you spot the old set in the original red slipcase with the cool album art, grab it. (No, you can't have mine.)

And one in French:
Chorus and Orchestra of La Scala cond. Claudio Abbado
Don Carlos: Placído Domingo
Elisabeth: Katia Ricciarelli
Eboli: Luciana Valentini-Terrani
Rodrigue: Leo Nucci
Philip: Ruggero Raimondi
The Grand Inquisitor: Nicolai Ghiaurov

On the plus side, it's in French. On the minus, this four-disc workout features an Italian conductor leading an Italian orchestra with a (mostly) Italian cast. Domingo sounds terrific, as do the duelling "all-star" bass pair of Raimondi and Ghiaurov. Katia Ricciarelli and Luciana Valentini-Terrani act well, and their singing is just passable. But the reason to track this relic is for the fourth disc, which features an appendix of six scenes that are standard cuts. The famous "Woodcutters" opening is presented here, along with the gorgeous (if long) ballet music and the original ending featuring a chorus of shouting Inquisitors putting poor Carlos to the test.

This is NOT  a first choice. But if you fall in love with this opera (and I did, back in 1995) this is an interesting, if not essential set to listen to. Especially because you can load it into a computer and program your IPod to play the "cut" scenes in the correct order. The booklet even shows you where to insert them--something that was technologically impossible when this set was originally released--if you were willing to stay up all night programming your CD changer. Not that I...ever...did that.

Tickets for Don Carlo are available at MetOperaFamily.Org, by calling (212) 362-6000, or at the box office.
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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.