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Verdi: Don Carlo, Soloists, The Metropolitan Opera, Fabio Luisi (cond), Metropolitan Opera House, New York City, 2 April, 2005 (BH)

Conductor: Fabio Luisi
Production: John Dexter
Set Designer: David Reppa
Costume Designer: Ray Diffen
Lighting Designer: Gil Wechsler
Stage Director: Stephen Pickover

Characters in order of vocal appearance:

A Forester: Patrick Carfizzi
Tebaldo, Elizabeth’s page: Sandra Lopez
Elizabeth of Valois: Sondra Radvanovsky
Don Carlo: Eduardo Villa
The Count of Lerma: Brian Davis
The Countess of Aremberg: Janna Jensen
A Friar: Vitalij Kowaljow
Rodrigo, marquis of Posa: Dwayne Croft
Philip II, king of Spain: Ferruccio Furlanetto
The Princess of Eboli: Violeta Urmana
A Royal Herald: Russell Thomas
A Celestial Voice: Olga Makarina
The Grand Inquisitor: Paata Burchuladze


One of the draws in this outstanding revival was the Met’s presentation of the complete, uncut Don Carlo, which has often been savaged to make its length more palatable. As one significant example, the ten-minute Prélude et Introduction is included, much to the pleasure of those Met patrons who decided to listen, and did not insist on chatting when no one is singing. (An unusual number of sibilant “shh’s” could be heard during this sold-out evening, and far be it from me to discourage such self-appointed noise police when such rich music-making is happening not a hundred feet away. One can only muse whether some in the audience might have enjoyed greater pleasure, being at home in front of the television.) At almost five hours, this production could perhaps be forgiven if not all aspects completely coalesced into a transcendent whole, but this one maintained its spell for much of the evening. This is a resplendent opera, but also a somewhat grueling one, especially as the second half of a long day for the orchestra, many of whom had been playing just a few hours earlier in an equally mammoth Der Rosenkavalier.

As the master coordinator of this huge spectacle and making his Met debut, the young conductor Fabio Luisi was tremendous – in utter command from start to last, with many thrilling moments all evening. One never goes to the opera with the same expectations as a concert, but one could have heard Mr. Luisi with closed eyes and inhaled his propulsive, luxurious account of Verdi’s score.

Eduardo Villa’s Don Carlo was a man visibly shaken by the story’s inexorable events, and his duet with Elizabeth (Sondra Radvanovsky) at the end of Act I (“L’ora fatale èsuonata!”) was one of the evening’s highlights, as was his subsequent duet with Rodrigo (Dwayne Croft) at the beginning of Act II. As Rodrigo, Croft is probably unbeatable in this role, and sang with opulent tone coupled with an uncanny ease onstage. One could only marvel at the effectiveness of his rapport with the rest of the cast, such as his sublime trio in Act III with Princess Eboli (Violeta Urmana) and Mr. Villa.

But the cast was a strong one. Ms. Radvanovsky continually impressed as Elizabeth, with heartrending pathos, and a ringing tone with impressively secure intonation. Few sopranos would be able to penetrate Verdi’s dense orchestration in the more powerfully scored group scenes, and Radvanovsky could always be discerned on top of the ensemble. Equally compelling, she acted the part with complete confidence and conviction. When the curtain rose on Act V, she was crouched outside the huge gates of the San Just Monastery, her back to the audience, gazing up with her hands clutching the towering bars, before launching “Tu che la vanità.” This is a snapshot I will not soon forget, and during the curtain calls, she received a huge ovation.

As Philip, Ferruccio Furlanetto was a magnificently tortured soul, and his reflective “Ella giamma m’amò!” in Act IV was also one of the evening’s memorable moments. As he finished the scene, the stunned audience agreed, with a roar that lasted for a good thirty seconds afterward. But part of the effect was no doubt due to the impact of Paavo Burchuladze’s Grand Inquisitor, magisterially painted. As a friend said later, “His voice is just so huge,” and indeed, his resounding was used to considerable effect here.

Violeta Urmana had outstanding presence as the Princess of Eboli, with a powerfully effective Moorish song in Act II, Scene 2, but things got even better later, when her breathtaking ending to the first scene of Act IV (“O don fatale”) seared through the house. This is a commanding singer, and Richard Strauss fans may want to take note of her coming Ariadne auf Naxos next season.

High praise for John Dexter’s 1979 set (with designer David Reppa), still effective in a way that puts the “grand” in grand opera. The aforementioned monastery gates thankfully appear twice, and with their golden bars that are easily a good three stories tall – an audience member could be forgiven for gasping. The enormous auto-da-fé scene, set in Madrid with seemingly every chorister the Met has ever hired filling the stage, was a model example of how to position bulging crowds for maximum effect. Gil Wechsler’s lighting plan, while overall darkly appropriate for a dark opera, could have benefited from a shade more chiaroscuro in some places, making it easier to locate singers onstage.

As usual, the Met’s hardworking musicians (as mentioned, many of whom had been basically playing all day) revealed the massively inventive score in all its burnished glory. The orchestra’s horn section had some glorious passages that made me thankful the instrument was invented in the first place. Act IV opens with a radiant cello solo – although I couldn’t see into the pit I assume it was the fine Jerry Grossman -- and the lower strings in general gave all the weight you could ask for.

I confess to coming to this production with mild trepidation, which was quickly dissipated by the splendor of Mr. Dexter’s concepts, some beautifully incisive singing and Mr. Luisi’s fully internalized grasp of Verdi’s idiom – not to mention all those truncated pieces of music that you would never want to miss. Why anyone would want to trim a nanosecond of this powerful score is a mystery, since it is clearly one of Verdi’s crowning works, decisively demonstrating his supreme dramatic skills and threaded with spectacularly conceived ensemble pieces. As the curtain fell at 12:05 in the morning, one could only marvel at the composer’s ability to conceive this vast opus, well after age fifty.



Bruce Hodges

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