Viewpoint: A Vehicle Fit for a King
© Gregory Downer 2013
This month's cover subject, Ferruccio Furlanetto, is a gentleman of many talents and enthusiasms. One of the great bass's passions is for classic automobiles, a taste that he began developing during his early seasons at the Salzburg Festival, during the reign of Herbert von Karajan — classical music's most celebrated admirer of cars, motorcycles and other high-speed vehicles. In February, while Furlanetto was in New York for his run as Filippo II in the Met's Don Carlo, Maserati of Manhattan allowed OPERA NEWS art director Gregory Downer and photographer James Salzano to shoot our Furlanetto cover at their New York showroom. As you can see from the session portraits — and from Downer's own behind-the-scenes snapshot on this page — Furlanetto looks completely at ease in the world of luxury transportation.
Furlanetto is one of opera's most peripatetic stars. His schedule this season has already taken him to Vienna, Chicago, Moscow, Budapest, Prague, Amsterdam, St. Petersburg and San Diego; this month, he is in London for more performances as Filippo II in Nicholas Hytner's Don Carlo staging, a coproduction of the Met, Covent Garden and Norwegian National Opera. I have been privileged to see and hear many fine interpreters of Filippo at the Met and elsewhere, but no other artist created so complete a portrait of the Spanish king as Furlanetto does. Furlanetto sounds magnificent, with a command of Verdian line and accent that makes Filippo's big moments in the opera, such as the beginning of Act IV, register with true majesty. In "Ella giammai m'amò!" Furlanetto somehow manages to sound all-powerful and completely exhausted within a single phrase; he is vocally believable as anointed king and as heartbroken husband. But it is Furlanetto's physical imagination — his ability to deliver the details of a full-body characterization, as it were — that dazzles me. He enters the stage with a true sense of purpose; one can tell by the way he arrives in a scene just where his character has been. When his Filippo appears in the auto-da-fé scene of Don Carlo, one believes that he has come from a cathedral, rather than from the wings of a stage. I will never forget Furlanetto's peevish extension of his hand to Posa in Act II, followed by the shock of seeing the king snatch his hand away before Posa had a chance to acknowledge it. The gesture was neatly done and expertly timed to catch the fall of the act's final curtain. It was also based on solid research: among the many quirks that the historical Philip had was a severe dislike of being touched by anyone.
The real Philip II of Spain (1527–1598) had a private life that was highly unconventional, even by royal standards. He began fathering children well before his first marriage, which took place when he was sixteen. Élisabeth de Valois, the Elisabetta of Verdi's opera, was the third of his four wives — and the only one who was not a blood relative. Like most members of the Hapsburg family, Philip resorted to inbreeding when he needed an heir: his first and second wives, Maria Manuela of Portugal and Mary I of England, were both his cousins, and his last consort, Anna of Austria, was his niece. If you are interested in knowing more about the historical background of Filippo and Elisabetta, look for Christopher Morgan's highly entertaining Don Carlos and Company, a book that demonstrates that Philip's life was rich enough in incident for five operas.
F. PAUL DRISCOLL
The opinions expressed in OPERA NEWS do not necessarily represent the views of The Metropolitan Opera Guild or The Metropolitan Opera.
Letters to the editor:
70 Lincoln Center Plaza
New York, NY 10023-6593