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In Review > North America

Don Carlo

LOS ANGELES
Los Angeles Opera
9/22/18

In Review LA Opera Don Carlo lg 1218
Ana María Martínez and Ramón Vargas in LA Opera’s Don Carlo
© Cory Weaver/LA Opera

DON CARLO , Verdi’s grandest yet darkest opera, has the potential to be his most depressing, but when it is performed well—as in LA Opera’s confident season-opening revival (seen Sept. 22), a veritable torrent of thrilling singing—the audience leaves the theater exhilarated. Ian Judge’s 2006 production, restaged for this season’s revival by Louisa Muller, favors a static presentation of the action. The despair at the heart of the work was conveyed most effectively by John Gunter’s set—a labyrinth of pillars that breaks up any settled sense of perspective, topped by gruesome images of suffering taken from masterpieces of Baroque art. The gloom shed by the sooty red that is the predominant color of the scenery was greatly augmented by Tim Goodchild’s almost uniformly black costumes.

LA Opera music director James Conlon marked his fiftieth Don Carlo on opening night. Conlon has a sound grasp of the score’s complexities and richness; he is able to realize the majesty of Don Carlo while sustaining the near-hysterical tension that threatens to undermine it. But a fully successful Don Carlo requires the best singers possible—and LA Opera’s cast was magnificent! The apex of the drama is the scene between Filippo and the Grand Inquisitor; here, Ferruccio Furlanetto and Morris Robinson gave the finest performance of this confrontation I have seen. Their gigantic voices plumbed the depths of existential insecurity and expressed their individual beliefs as passions of historic significance. By stressing the humanity of the king, Furlanetto intensified our awareness of the inhuman dilemmas Filippo faces.

Ana María Martínez’s Elisabetta offered a strong contrast to her royal husband, steadily moving toward a supernal detachment from the world. Martínez’s soft, seamlessly attained high register presented the queen as the incarnation of kindness, worlds removed from the iniquity of the Inquisition. As Don Carlo, Ramón Vargas progressively subdued the character’s volatile emotions; his final duet with Elisabetta, “Ma lassù ci vedremo,” offered a moving, tender climax to the violent action. 

Plácido Domingo’s acting hinted at the trickiness that lies within Rodrigo’s character, and the open, clarion tone of his still-potent upper register summoned up the intense if somewhat misguided idealism that drives the character. In her company debut, mezzo Anna Smirnova contributed a Princess Eboli that was a vocal hurricane, capable of sweeping all before it; she also introduced a few welcome moments of ironic laughter. 

There was one blemish: the four-act Italian-language version was used, a difficult decision to justify. The inclusion of the original Act I would have added significant luster to an already splendid performance; the four-act version truncates the roles of Carlo and Elisabetta, so they never achieve the full pathos that Verdi had envisaged. —Simon Williams



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