Don Carlo in Vienna

AustriaAustria G. Verdi, Don Carlo: Soloists, Vienna State Orchestra & Chorus, Franz Welser-Möst (conductor), Wiener Staatsoper, 10.9.2012 (JMI)

Production: Vienna State Opera

Direction: Daniele Abbado
Sets: Angelo Linzalata
Costumes: Carla Teti
Lighting: Alessandro Carletti


Don Carlo: Giuseppe Gipali
Elisabetta: Krassimira Stoyanova
Filippo II: René Pape
Eboli: Luciana d’Intino
Rodrigo: Simon Keenlyside
Il Grande Inquisitore: Ain Anger
Un Frate/Carlo V: Dan Paul Dumitrescu
Tebaldo: Margarita Gritskova
Voce dal cielo: Valentina Nafornita
Conte di Lerma/Araldo: Jinxu Xiahou

Picture courtesy Vienna State Opera, © Michael Pöhn

Daniele Abbado’s production of Don Carlo at the Vienna State Opera was premiered last June and it is rolled out again now, for the very beginning of the new opera season. The cast is virtually the same, except for Roberto Alagna’s debut in the role of Don Carlo. The production uses the Italian version in four acts, without any additions to it. Even the lament of Filippo following the death of Rodrigo, is cut, despite of containing the beautiful music that would later become the Lacrimosa of the Requiem.

For better or worse, Daniele Abbado’s stage production goes. The stage reminds me of Jürgen Rose productions in Munich: a space enclosed by walls that open up, giving way to the artists. It’s an economic set in every sense of the word and it works better in the intimate passages than it does for the mass scenes… Especially the Auto da Fe wasn’t suited to Angelo Linzalata’s set or, rather, the other way ‘round. The costumes by Carla Teti confused me, offering as they seemingly did, a tribute to Goya and his painting of the Family of Charles IV. The court costumes respond to the times of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, while the common people seem not to have moved on from the 16th: Either a tribute to Goya or just Daniele Abbado wanting more color in the dark production. Similar to his other directions, Abbado junior gives little direction to actors and doesn’t dazzle us with much imagination for the movement and blocking of crowd scenes. Perhaps his greatest achievement is to make us forget the previous Vienna-production of Don Carlos—the French five act version including the pizza delivery ballet—by Peter Konwitschny. REVIEW LINK

Franz Welser-Möst an uneven performance. The first half—until the end of the second act—was characterized by excessive sound from the pit and little passion. The second one—the last two acts—were much better, with the the orchestral volume well controlled. His tempi were alive and the orchestra produced an excellent, rich, sometimes even spectacular sound. The chorus, too, was in top notch shape.

The Vienna opera had announced a stellar cast, almost comparable with that of the Munich Opera last January. REVIEW LINK Unfortunately illnesses and substitutions took their toll and the result was not what expected. Roberto Alagna couldn’t apparently shake his health problems from this and canceled. His replacement should have been Fabio Sartori but the Italian tenor also fell ill, which brought Albanian Giuseppe Gipali into play for the first two performances at first (with Alagna was expected to recover to finish the run), but ended up singing in al the performances.

Unfortunately Gipali is not a tenor who can sing this character in a major theater and in a first rate cast without standing out in the wrong direction. His tenor is nice and smooth, but simply too small. Whenever the orchestra plays anything approaching, much less exceeding forte, Gipali becomes inaudible. His absolute lack of expressiveness in his singing doesn’t help. Even as a substitution, he wasn’t impressive for one of the top opera houses in the world.

Bulgarian soprano Krassimira Stoyanova was a remarkable Elisabetta. This great singer—really one of the best sopranos of our time—hasn’t nearly got the name recognition she deserves. If I had to pick a triumvirate of Elisabettas, for example, Krassimira Stoyanova would be part of it. Not at very top, but right along Anja Harteros and Sondra Radvanovsky. Her performance was most magnificent in the the last act’s aria Tu che le vanità, the following duet with Don Carlo; she shone in her farewell to the Countess of Aremberg and she was most convincing in her confrontation with Eboli in the third act. Earlier she had to contend with the excessive volume of the orchestra.

René Pape is pretty much unrivaled as Philip II. I might prefer my memories of Scandiuzzi and Salminen, but that doesn’t make Pape any less our modern reference. It was a shame that the aria at the prison after the death of Posa was cut, though, which he has always sung in Munich.

Luciana D’Intino is—always, as on this occasion—an ever-reliable Eboli in a way few other singers of our time—perhaps Dolora Zajick—are. Her interpretation of “Canzone del velo” was, in truth, not all that good, but she showed her unquestionable class in both the trio of the second act and especially in her main aria “O don fatale”. Simon Keenlyside did well as Posa, singing with gusto and conviction, but his voice is too much at the limit in this score. He is an excellent singer and a great performer—just not a Verdi baritone. Ain Anger was a powerful and well-suited for the part of the Grand Inquisitor (remarkable in his confrontation with Philip II) and Dan Paul Dumitrescu was a sonorous Monk.

Jose Mª Irurzun