The Los Angeles Opera presented the later Italian version of Verdi's Don Carlo on Friday evening. The story of Don Carlo concerns the uncompromising character of King Philip II of Spain, [Facts from Wikipedia] and his devotion to the inquisition. Everyone, his wife, his epileptic son Carlo, his ally, is sacrificed to his ambition. Spain rules protestant Flanders with an iron hand.
The set consists of red modules with gothic arches which are pushed into various configurations for the many scene changes. From the balcony the arches are probably all you see. From the orchestra each module is topped with details from the religious paintings of Caravaggio copied against the red background, giving the production an aura of intense catholic passion. It is an entirely suitable invocation of religious symbolism in an opera where Philip II justifies his cruel reign over Flanders on the basis of religious prejudice. Carlo and Rodrigo champion the Flemish who appear briefly like characters from Rembrandt. [They went to the Caravaggio - Rembrandt exhibition in Amsterdam?]
Philip betrothed his son Carlo to Elisabeth de Valois and they fell in love. Philip then married her himself, creating this destructive love triangle.
The problem of Verdi lies in the gargantuan conceptions of his characters which must then be filled by mortal, often inadequate singers. Placido Domingo has done a marvelous job of casting this opera. Their strengths then become its strengths.
Salvatore Licitra is able to get exactly the right spinto tenor color into his voice to project the dramatic intensity of Carlo. I suppose I would advise him to practice the mesa di voce. But I rather believe he is an artist who must be loved for his gifts, which are many and perhaps even loved for his untamed spirit.
There was a truly great singer in this cast: Ferruccio Furlanetto as Philip II. His bass voice is very beautiful and his singing is as large as Verdi himself would have wanted it. It was truly an honor to hear this wonderful portrayal.
The largest female role in this opera is Eboli sung marvelously by Dolora Zajick. I honestly preferred her more lyrical singing in The Maid of Orleans last summer. Lyrical Verdi might be worth the effort. Whatever my opinion, she was wonderfully intense.
Annalisa Rospigliosi as Elisabeth is a beautiful lyric soprano with only a touch of spinto in her tone, balancing out the ensemble with an element of sweetness, the only softening element in the entire opera.
All of these voices had sufficient weight to carry over the orchestra. The ending of the opera is a kind of reverse deus ex machina--a ghost-like monk spirits Carlo off to the nether world.
Perhaps the best California opera is now in LA.