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Monday, December 13, 2010

HD Telecast Review: A Second Look at Don Carlo

Marina Poplavskaya and Roberto Alagna in Act II of Don Carlo.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2010 The Metropolitan Opera

On Saturday afternoon, the Metropolitan Opera presented the live telecast of the new Nicholas Hytner production of Verdi's Don Carlo. The telecast was hosted by Deborah Voigt, and included backstage footage and interviews with Roberto Alagna, Marina Popvlaskaya, Ferruccio Furlanetto and conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

The benefit of seeing a live in HD broadcast, of course, is that the camera work gives you an impossibly close perspective that you would never get in the opera house. This works well in the second and fourth acts, drawing the viewer into the intimate drama being played out in the Spanish court. However, in the big public auto-da-fé scene that closes Act III, the claustrophobic set design and vast crowds gave the sense that the camera didn't know quite where to look.

For the most part, the performances on Saturday were an improvement over the premiere. (That's often the case when a cast has sung a number of performances together.) In the title role, Roberto Alagna sang with fine, heroic tone, despite battling a visible cold. His energy with Simon Keenlyside's Rodrigo is very strong, even though the Marquis keeps stabbing him in the back for political reasons.

Marina Poplavskaya is on her way to stardom, with twin turns in Carlo and the upcoming new production of La Traviata. She is a strong Elisabeth, with an expression that conveys noble suffering. She also has a fine, pointed soprano that is capable of handling the difficulties of the Act V "Tu che la vanità." Anna Smirnova is less pleasing as Eboli, a blowsy presence who navigates the cadenzas in "The Song of the Veil" carefully, as if she were on very thin ice.

The biggest improvement Saturday was Erik Halfvarson as the Grand Inquisitor. His duet with King Philip (the superb Ferruccio Furlanetto) was as it should be, the most chilling moment in the score. The libretto specifies that the Inquisitor is a 90-year-old blind man. Mr. Halfvarson plays this to the hilt, adding tremors to his hands but none to his dark bass voice.

The production is still plagued by Nicholas Hytner's additions. The smirking priest who sentences the victims of the Inquisition in Act III is still distracting since he talks over the music. Mr. Hytner's controversial, changed ending (including the swordfight and death of Don Carlo) works better on camera than it did in the theater, but still makes little sense.

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