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VERDI: Don Carlo

spacer Costea, Pozniak; Malagnini, Piazzola, Prestia; Coro Lirico Amadeus, Orchestra Regionale dell'Emilia-Romagna, Teatro Comunale Luciano Pavarotti Modena, 
Ventura. Production: Lee. Unitel Classica 724608, 184 mins. (opera), 11 mins. (bonus), subtitled


As an opera weaving the political and the religious into the workings of the human psyche, Don Carlo is hard to beat. The lead characters are each awarded two arias — one that gives us a general glimpse into the character's mind early on, and a second in a more extreme state. Structurally, perhaps because of Verdi's initial effort for the Paris Opera and his obsessive reworking of the piece for Milan, the opera goes to the very depths of the human heart, with Filippo's Act IV "Ella giammai m'amò" winning the laurels in portraying the anguish of the human condition. 

The play not only requires singers of the utmost vocal accomplishment but asks for actors every bit as worthy of their characters. To put them under the microscope of the camera lens adds an extra challenge to their performances. Fortunately there is one actor of intense depth in this cast from the Modena opera, bass Giacomo Prestia, whose Filippo is terrifying and heartbreaking in equal measure. His variety of facial expression, body position and gestural precision are worthy of any great actor, but it is the craft of carrying out these precise indications of character over musical time that testifies to Prestia's command of the art form of acting in opera. Vocally, he is wobbly at the top of his voice, but that does not keep him from using full vocal colors, from sepulchral lower notes to a haunting use of sotto voce in "Ella giammai m'amò."

None of the other singers comes up to this level of acting expertise, but they are a surprisingly good troupe of artists. Foremost among them is Mario Malagnini, whose Carlo is beautifully placed and brassy without ever sounding unpleasant. Malagnini shines in both lyric and dramatic moments (of which the opera offers many for Carlo). As his Elisabetta, Cellia Costea pours gorgeous velvet through the middle of her voice with some thinning on top. She is beautiful to look at, but she and Malagnini have no palpable chemistry. More to be believed are her moments of pathos, when consoling her lady-in-waiting in "Non pianger, mia compagna." As Eboli, Alla Pozniak is perhaps the biggest offender in the park-and-bark school of theatrics, with her face betraying thoughts of her vocal production much of the time. Next in line is Simone Piazzola, who brings an appealing baritone to the Marquis of Posa, as capable of messa di voce as of stentorian insistence. For most of the opera, Piazzola displays two gestures — one or both hands out and facing upward, or one hand pointing. And God forbid Rodrigo should look Carlo in the eye; despite their avowals of eternal friendship to each other in "Dio che nell'alma infondere," embracing seems to be beyond the emotional scope of these soldiers.

At least some of the culpability for the weakness of the actors must be laid at the feet of the various directors. This production takes place on a set of risers made of wood. While there are some stunning forced-perspective backdrops (particularly the San Yuste monastery drop), the scaffolding supporting the risers is an eyesore, and it is odd to see these noble people sit down on it time and again. (Note: as Filippo, Prestia uses the benches instead.) The theater's front light is good at the foot of the stairs but dim on the much-used stairs themselves, robbing the men's eyes especially of interpretation. Eye contact is rarely made by some of the key characters, and this is a great pity in a video presentation. Carlo and Elisabetta are mostly staged facing forward with considerable distance between them, perhaps acceptable in the Arena di Verona but not on camera. On the other hand, the costumes are universally excellent and support the drama as they should. Musically, Fabrizio Ventura leads a solid performance, with the usual occasional ensemble problems one expects in live video. spacer


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