Rossini’s Cinderella: A Musical, Visual, and Comedic Delight

Verdi: Don Carlo, Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro alla Scala, Fabio Luisi (conductor), Teatro alla Scala, Milan, 26.10.2013 (JMI)

Production: Teatro alla Scala


Don Carlo: Fabio Sartori
Elisabetta: Martina Serafín
Philippo II: René Pape
Rodrigo: Massimo Cavalletti
Eboli: Ekaterina Gubanova
Inquisidor: Štefan Kocán
Monk: Fernando Rado
Lerma: Carlos Cardoso
Tebaldo: Barbara Lavarian
Herald: Carlo Bosi
Heaven’s Voice: Roberta Salvati
Direction and sets: Stéphane Braunschweig
Costumes: Thibault Vancraenenbroeck
Lighting: Marion Hewlett

My Italian journey came to a close with this somewhat disappointing performance of Don Carlo: an excellent musical version but with a cast that alternated between good and mediocre.

The stage design by Stéphane Braunschweig is not very compelling. It’s a minimalist production, but it’s also figurative at times in the first part of the opera with some rather unconvincing touches. Braunschweig repeatedly puts Carlo and Elisabetta as children on stage to accompany the adult protagonists as a reminder of past events. Most surprising is the part played by the costumes: 16th-century elegance for the nobles but a chorus dressed in 1950s style. The opera takes place on a bare stage where a few props indicate the locations of the scenes. The direction has nothing of particular interest, but it does not fall back on the kitsch details so frequent in other productions, especially in the Auto Da Fe.

This Don Carlo, offered in four acts, is the version that premiered at La Scala in 1884. Fabio Luisi was excellent as music director, and so was the orchestra. He is not what one might consider a celebrity conductor, but he is one of the best around today. He was a contender to replace Daniel Barenboim at La Scala, but the job has gone finally to Riccardo Chailly. Luisi was responsible for the best part of this Don Carlo performance: a very careful reading, full of life and energy, and always supportive of the singers on stage.

After his cancellations at Salzburg and Bilbao in Giovanna D’ Arco, Fabio Sartori returned to the stage here as Don Carlo, and his performance was vocally proficient. He is better suited to the role than Ramón Vargas (Don Carlo in Vienna), though he lacks Vargas’s elegance of phrasing. Sartori’s poor stage skills were the biggest problem here.

Austrian soprano Martina Serafin was a very uneven Elisabetta. I still remember several of her great performances as the Marschallin in Rosenkavalier, but Elisabetta is rather different and Serafin is not well suited to the role. When the score draws on her middle range things work well, but the high notes leave much to be desired, short on harmonics and too difficult for her.

René Pape was Philippo II, and he proved once again that vocally he is the best possible singer for the role. Even so, he was weaker than I’ve heard him in this character in the past, and there were some moments in Act II where he was not in top form. If one could combine the voice of René Pape and the artistry of Ferruccio Furlanetto, we would have the perfect Philippo. In any case, he was the best singer in the entire cast.

Massimo Cavalletti as Posa gave a youthful and convincing interpretation of the role. He should take more care with his singing since at times he sounds rather artificial, which leads him to fall into a certain monotony. But this did not seem to matter to the audience, who gave him the biggest ovations of the evening.

Russian mezzo soprano Ekaterina Gubanova was not convincing as Princess Eboli. She has a good sound and an attractive timbre, but her voice is not for Verdi. She does fine in a lighter repertoire, but here she was insufficient, somewhat tight at the top and short of power in the middle and lower ranges.

Štefan Kocán was an acceptable Grand Inquisitor, but his voice is not very menacing or authoritarian. A darker voice is needed for this role.

In the secondary characters, Fernando Rado was a serviceable Monk, while Barbara Lavarian was completely inaudible as Tebaldo. Carlo Bosi was excellent as the King’s Herald, and Roberta Salvati was a correct Voice of Heaven.

La Scala had very few empty seats. The audience showed little excitement during the performance, and gave the strongest ovations for Ella giammai m’amo and Posa’s death. There was more enthusiasm at the final bows.

Jose Mª. Irurzun

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