OPERA NEWS - Don Carlo
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Don Carlo

AMSTERDAM
De Nederlandse Opera
5/30/12

The Netherlands Opera four-act Italian Don Carlo (heard May 30) seemed like short rations after having seen Houston's five-act French version a month before, but Verdi's opera always proves stirring. The main pleasure came from Yannick Nézet-Séguin's masterful, transparent direction of the Rotterdam Philharmonic — a brilliantly phrased orchestral performance, deepening his already fine Met reading. One could see Nézet-Séguin singing along with every line; he deserved his huge ovation. The evening's other hero was Camilla Nylund's graceful, moving Elisabetta; the soprano showed remarkable technique, artistry and beauty of sound in music outside her usual Wagner–Strauss fach, and this despite serious indisposition two nights before. 

Willy Decker's 2004 production (sets and costumes by Wolfgang Gussmann) had features familiar from his Salzburg–Met Traviata. The stage was backed by a huge white curved wall (inlaid with Imperial funerary tablets that occasionally did double duty as furniture). Elisabetta's court ladies made much tiresome use of plastic red flowers; and black-clad crowds moved offstage backward through doors (here bearing Posa's body as if he were the vanquished Siegfried). Some character direction touches were insightful, some puzzling. (The oppressed queen entered beaming and ran at nearly every juncture.) Much visual and symbolic mileage accrued from a flown-in giant crucifix; after the auto-da-fé, Carlo envisioned himself on it.

  The cast had strengths but never coalesced into a stylistically unified ensemble. Carlo and Rodrigo were unfortunately styled as commedia versions of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Massimo Giordano's youthful Infante proved unbelievably uneven, varying from off-pitch and/or choppy to glorious and delicate from phrase to phrase (sometimes note to note). His diction and basic sound were apt, but he often hooked into high notes from below and then hammered them. Unfortunate current wisdom holds that Rodrigo can be effectively cast with handsome baritones suited to Count Almaviva. Christopher Maltman sounded effortful throughout, beefing up his lyric sound with resultant tonal woodiness and pitch problems; even his occasional diminuendos and head tones sounded too appliqué. His characterization consisted mainly of smiling.

Filippo and Eboli were Russian artists known to Met audiences — Mikhail Petrenko and Ekaterina Gubanova — both singing a wider repertory than many of their compatriots in major world houses. The bass gave a frustrating performance, often rich of sound (despite a top that frequently thinned out) but lacking in italianate legato and seemingly devoid of interpretive insight. He entered and exited free of bodily or facial expression and made little contact with the text. Gubanova, slimmer than ever, shows improvement every year and fared capably. What she lacked, especially in the veil song and the garden trio, was any chest resonance; "O don fatale" — with Elisabetta mystifyingly onstage until its final section — went better, earning an ovation. John Tomlinson wobbled fearsomely as the Grand Inquisitor, but everything he did had powerful theatrical purpose and motivation. Some smaller parts were weakly cast, but Andrea Mastroni — kept offstage at the end, when Carlo committed suicide with Filippo's sword (!) — made a sonorous Friar, and Lisette Bolle was a truly outstanding Celestial Voice, warm and liquid. 

It's shocking that a major theater still sanctions cutting a verse of Elisabetta's "Non pianger, mia compagna."  The chorus, well handled and individualized by Decker, sounded very satisfying. spacer

DAVID SHENGOLD

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