Sunday, December 12, 2010

An Elemental Don Carlo; Met Live in HD Review

The new Met production of Don Carlo was just transmitted as part of the "Live in HD" season in theaters all over the world. It was a production of efficiencies that magnified elemental elements to help focus the power of this Verdian masterpiece.

Producer Nicholas Hytner, who also directs London's National Theatre, and Bob Crowley who was the set and costume designer, worked together to streamline this colossal opera by focusing on a limited palette of colors: blacks and grayish whites, bright reds and golds. There were also innumerable crosses--some in plain view as religious icons, others cut into negative spaces in walls.

The messages were clear. Gold was authority, red was blood but also power.

[Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera]

This streamlining was helpful in providing a visual analog to the saturated emotional lines that run through the music in this opera. Conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin kept the sound leaning forward and on the edge of falling over. The first two acts were also linked together through clever transformations so that the action left a compressed and restless impression. The Met orchestra sounded fabulous--even over movie house-speakers.

Don Carlo is opera that is frictionized through a checkerboard of duets between characters. As the development of this opera unfolded, it was the infrequent but extended solo arias that cut through and left us breathless.

Marina Poplavskaya sang Elisabeth de Valois. When we first met her she came onstage and pointed a rifle at us; she was an outdoorswoman--a force of nature. This production followed the five-act 1867 version of the opera, but opened without the chorus of woodcutters and their wives.

Poplavskaya and Roberto Alagna (as Don Carlo) clicked.

Elizabeth blossomed in her brief love with Carlo in the Forest of Fontainebleau, but then as she was promised to Carlo's father Philip, she quickly became a queen with issues.

Poplavskaya brought out the complexities of this role and her voice seemed to strengthen as the work progressed. She sang "Tu che le vanità" in Act five with devastating fluency and controlled quiet singing that highlighted the primal drama of one who longs for death as a release.

Ferruccio Furlanetto as King Philip II was also impressive. He was able to reveal the complex frustrations of this character and received thunderous applause for his act IV solo "Ella giammai m'amò."

Alagna was impressive as Don Carlo. He was able, both through his singing and his motions onstage, to signify the illogical and impulsive motivations of Carlo and yet also made us care about him.

Simon Keenlyside brought richness to Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa. He played Posa as the brains of the operation, always thinking one step ahead. His scene with Furlanetto at the end of the second act was riveting and made the dark side seem even darker.

Verdi wrote this opera an ending of mists and questions; one never knows quite how things will go down. This production took a definitive course consistent with its elemental colors and forces: the kings guard stab Don Carlo and he dies in the arms of Elizabeth. The natural course, even when violent, wins out over the supernatural in this memorable production.

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