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HomeOperaMaryland Lyric Opera’s Don Carlo: Nice Singing, Music, and Showmanship

Maryland Lyric Opera’s Don Carlo: Nice Singing, Music, and Showmanship

I adore it when the skilled hand is in proof.  I adore it when the dedication to high quality is absolute.  I adore it when there’s a dedication to neighborhood driving alongside the dedication to the humanities.  Maryland Lyric Opera will get excessive marks on all of those, and all three have been on full show Friday evening in MDLO’s showpiece manufacturing of Giuseppe Verdi’s Don Carlo (1867) in live performance.  MDLO’s partially staged efficiency included a seventy-one piece orchestra, a twenty piece Banda, and a seventy-four member refrain, six lead soloists and eight contributing singers.  This was live performance opera at its fullest after which some.

Any report on a efficiency of Don Carlo has rather a lot to unpack, starting with the query of why it’s typically known as Don Carlos.  What distinction does an s make?  Verdi and his librettists Joseph Méry and Camille du Locle initially wrote a grand, five-act opera in French for Paris titled Don Carlos (together with a ballet not typically carried out at present).  It didn’t fare all that effectively, and Verdi produced a number of revisions, a very powerful and most frequently carried out is the one for his homeland, a four-act model with the libretto translated into Italian, known as Don Carlo.  The Metropolitan Opera not too long ago carried out Don Carlos, its first ever manufacturing of the unique in French.  Many musicologists, although not all, view the opera as Verdi’s best.  Some think about it flawed in development regardless of its vital and nonetheless related themes, however all yield to the greatness of its music.  Don Carlo is continuously carried out in Europe, although not so typically within the US for causes I’ll get to later.

Mark Delevan as Rodrigo and Arturo Chacón-Cruz as Carlo. Photograph by Julian Thomas; courtesy of Maryland Opera.

Don Carlo is a historic drama (loosely based mostly on actual individuals and occasions) that takes place in sixteenth century Spain underneath the rule of King Philip II and the Spanish Inquisition.  It’s based mostly on a Schiller play which itself had a forerunner in a French romance by Abbé de Saint-Réal whose plot was based mostly on a rumor, not substantiated, that the true Don Carlos, inheritor to Philip’s throne was secretly in love along with his stepmother; it’s difficult, comply with me right here.  Whereas we consider Verdi as primarily involved with affairs of the center, he additionally grew to become a political activist, deeply involved with governance, conflicts between kingdoms/nations, issues of church and state, and their influence on the person.

The opera’s plot in a nutshell: A monk seeming to be the deceased earlier ruler, Charles V, affords foreboding phrases for Carlo who has simply returned from Flanders the place there’s an rebellion, a visit made towards the needs of his father, the King.  Preparations had been made for Prince Carlo of Spain to marry Princess Elisabetta of France to seal the peace between warring France and Spain.  Subsequently, the 2 met and fell in love.  Within the interim, King Philip determined it was higher for him to marry her as a substitute.  Jilted by his father, Carlo is distraught and nonetheless drawn to Elisabetta.  She accepts the brand new scenario as their destiny and reluctantly rebuffs Carlo.  Courtroom Princess Eboli has designs on Carlo however then seeks revenge on him when she discovers his love of Elisabetta; she vegetation proof of his attachment to the Queen for the King to seek out.  Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa, befriends Carlo; each have a dedication to serving to residents of Flanders, repressed in rule by Philip.  Philip takes Rodrigo as a confidant to additionally spy on Carlo and Elizabeth whom he suspects are adulterous.  The King asks the Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition the best way to take care of Carlo’s riot and is informed Carlo’s demise is warranted and so is Rodrigo’s for abetting the rebel in Flanders.  The King mourns his spouse’s lack of affection for him and on discovering the proof planted by Eboli accuses her of an affair with Carlo.  Eboli and the King come to comprehend Elisabetta is harmless.  Eboli confesses to Elisabetta that she gave proof of her affection for Carlo to the King and that she was the King’s mistress; Elisabetta banishes her to exile.  Rodrigo is shot by the King’s males.  Carlo vows to proceed the battle for Flanders, and after a quick reunion with Elisabetta, is nearly captured by the King’s males, however is led right into a tomb by the ghost of his granddad, Charles V in an ending so ambiguous that it has induced many a stage director to change it; MDLO stayed true to Verdi.  As you’ll be able to see, this plot requires an outsized nutshell.  I believe that’s an issue, extra later.

Elaine Alvarez as Elisabetta. Photograph by Julian Thomas; courtesy of Maryland Opera.

Let’s give Verdi and the MDLO Orchestra (seventy-one members with a twenty-member Banda) their due.  Verdi’s music in Don Carlo, like all Verdi music is temper setting, drama enhancing and melodious, however this one appeared very completely different to me, far completely different from the music I simply heard in attending Rigoletto not too long ago.  It appeared extra refined and extra diversified.  I believed I heard a center jap affect at instances, marches, completely different selections of solo devices, different influences; a few of it even sounded French.  Conductor Louis Salemno, main a large orchestra and refrain, gave Verdi’s music full measure, stunning, typically drawing you in and typically urgent you again in your seat.  It was a fabulous expertise.

Andrea Silvestrelli as King Philip. Photograph by Julian Thomas; courtesy of Maryland Opera.

Verdi’s Don Carlo requires six sturdy soloists for the roles of Carlo, Elisabetta, Philip, Rodrigo, Eboli, and Grand Inquisitor.  MDLO’s six primary soloists have been stellar and buoyed by eight wonderful supporting singers; all have been wonderful in singing and performing.  Worldwide star tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz was a convincing Carlo whose burnished tenor was spectacular in solos and duets.  One of the vital spectacular duets got here early within the opera as Carlo and Rodrigo sealed their friendship, mixing their voices in an exquisite method, paying homage to the tenor baritone-duet in The Pearl Fishers.  Baritone Mark Delavan, an MDLO common, gave certainly one of his best performances as Rodrigo.  Soprano Elaine Alvarez sang superbly as Elisabetta.  Her voice has a uncommon endearing high quality, so efficient at conveying the feelings of the troubled Queen.  Mezzo-soprano Catherine Martin offered maybe the one light-hearted second of the opera along with her Act I aria about mistaken identities, which was a delight.  She additional impressed with an exquisite and emotionally searing aria in Act III expressing her disgrace and remorse over her actions.  Bass Andrea Silvestrelli who performed King Philip II is commonly described as “one of the sought-after ‘bassi profondi’ on the worldwide opera scene”.  It’s exhausting to examine a extra good King Philip.  With that voice and royal method, he instructions each scene, whereas nonetheless conveying his insecurities about his energy and his love life.  Bass Kenneth Kellogg made a fearsome, implacable blind Grand Inquisitor; his voice in superb type used to chilling impact. 

The superb forged in smaller roles contributed considerably to the effectiveness of the efficiency, together with the marvelous soprano Nayoung Ban, who portrayed Tebaldo and the Celestial Voice, and easy, regular baritone SeungHyeon Baek who sang the roles of Frate and a Flemish Deputy; each are former members of the MDLO Younger Artists institute.  Different contributors have been Mauricio Miranda, Hunter Enoch, Javier Arrey, Jose Sacin, Adam Cioffani, and Annie Gill.  The seventy-four member MDLO Refrain singing superbly have been positioned in a balcony semi-circle behind the stage with women and men members evenly dispersed.  The refrain is a significant contributor to the efficiency in Don Carlo, and this refrain fulfilled that position extraordinarily effectively.  One complicating issue for all of the singers was the scale and quantity of the orchestra, which appeared to pressure singers often to labor additional exhausting to match the quantity of the orchestra’s sound.

Catherine Martin as Princess Eboli (left) and Nayoung Ban as Tebaldo. Photograph by Julian Thomas; courtesy of Maryland Opera.

Though this was a live performance model of Don Carlo, it was semi-staged with only some props, that includes singer-actor interactions, however no costumes or units.  Visible Supervisor Dave Gately’s restricted staging was effectively performed, enhancing the drama.  Lighting modifications have been used successfully to boost the temper of a number of of the scenes; kudos to Lighting Designer Stuart Duke.  The English supertitles (the opera was sung in Italian) have been displayed on a big zig zag display concerning the refrain.  A collection of work to enhance the setting have been additionally displayed on the display, a intelligent and efficient innovation for this manufacturing; kudos to Projection Designer Sarah Tundermann. [Addendum 5/17/22 – I asked for additional information on the paintings that were used and received these interesting comments from Ms. Tundermann: “David Gately was inspired by El Greco (Doménikos Theotokópoulos), so many of the paintings are either by him, or are stylistically similar. In some cases I projected one of his works, sometimes moving through pans and tilts before landing on the framing we would sit in for the scene. In other cases, a single painting didn’t work with the screen shape, or I was looking for something to match the mood and/or location of the scene better, so I visually compiled multiple paintings into a single image. This was the case for the first scene in which I combined Saint Francis Kneeling in Meditation with the city-scape background of The Feast in the House of Simon, both by El Greco. Other works by El Greco that were included in the projections were View of Toledo, Christ Healing the Blind, Apparition of the Virgin and Child to Saint Hyacinth, The Disrobing of Christ, The Vision of Saint John, Laocoon, and The View and Plan of Toledo. The act one finale – the Auto-da-fé – included works by Eugenio Lucas Velázquez and Francisco de Goya.”

Kenneth Kellogg as the Grand Inquisitor (center) confronting King Philip. Photo by Julian Thomas; courtesy of Maryland Opera.

My previous experience of Don Carlo was Washington National Opera’s production of 2018 which used a dark and foreboding staging throughout, with an emphasis on oppressive governance and church issues.  MDLO’s performance emphasized more the force of the attachment between Carlo and Elisabetta, even without a first act in the Paris version that establishes their love for each other.  I preferred this emphasis.  One disadvantage of the concert version is a lessened impact of the scene, though not the music, for the auto da fé scene, a celebration where heretics are burned alive, as sentenced by the Inquisition.  This is a more chilling scene in staged versions, “as a voice from the heavens sings of their salvation”.  The course of the ending is also more difficult to convey in a concert version.  MDLO’s semi-staged version did convey the important themes of the opera and provided a compelling, entertaining drama.  It also left me wanting to see the opera again; it has so many nuances to the story.

Often the reason given for Don Carlo not being produced more often in the U.S. is the cost of staging it with six extraordinary singers demanded for an effective presentation.  Opera is government subsidized in Europe and Don Carlo gets substantially more play there.  I wonder, however, if part of the issue in the U.S. is that we don’t have a history of living under kings and royalty.  We are not so readily drawn into this opera; its basis has not been drilled into our bones.  An opera about George Washington or Thomas Jefferson would have immediate appeal here, maybe even one about Hamilton. Verdi’s La Traviata, about a good girl in a bad situation, is enormously popular in the U.S.; our hearts quickly go out to Violetta. Don Carlo also covers a lot of territory even in a three-hour opera.  I believe Americans need more time and character development to be drawn deeper into its several stories, perhaps better as a mini-series; with the ambiguous ending, it seems ripe for a season two.  Despite its sophistication, Don Carlo will likely remain an opera whose main appeal is for opera aficionados. Regardless, its themes remain relevant in our turbulent times, and MDLO certainly showed us that its music deserves to be heard more often.

With Don Carlo, MDLO wraps up a COVID-limited season of two excellent productions, both concert versions, after a two-year hiatus caused by the pandemic.  MDLO, during that period ,showed its strong commitment to their community by using their resources early on to obtain and distribute face masks, in short supply at the time, to first responders and health care workers.  We are all beneficiaries of their ability to bring world class opera performances to the Maryland suburbs.

Fan Experience: Maryland Lyric Opera held performances of Don Carlo on May 13 and 15 at the Music Center at Strathmore.  The concert hall is a beautiful structure that has outstanding acoustics for concert performances.  Strathmore is conveniently located close to the Grosvenor Metro Stop on the Rockville Pike.  Use of the parking deck is free on evenings and weekends.  I have found parking there to be easy in and easy out.

For anyone not familiar with Don Carlo, I strongly recommend reading the synopsis ahead of time, at least the first two acts. As I have described, it is a very complicated plot.





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