Anja Harteros and René Pape  ̶  A Superb Pairing in Don Carlo

Don Carlo Photo Credit: Wilfried Hösl

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Verdi: Don Carlo, Bayerische Staatsoper Orchestra and Chorus, Asher Fisch (conductor), Nationaltheater, Munich, 27.7.2015 (JMI)

Don Carlo: Alfred Kim
Elisabetta: Anja Harteros
Filippo II: René Pape
Rodrigo: Simone Piazzola
Eboli: Anna Smirnova
Inquisitore: Rafal Siwek
Monk: Goran Juric
Tebaldo: Eri Nakamura
Count Lerma: Francesco Petrozzi
Heaven’s Voice: Golda Schultz
King’s Herald: Francesco Petrozzi

Production: Bayerische Staatsoper
Direction: Jürgen Rose (original), Franziska Severin (revival)
Sets and Costumes: Jürgen Rose
Lighting: Jürgen Rose (original), Michael Bauer (revival)

My visit to the 2015 Munich Opera Festival has come to an end with Don Carlo. The performance was not especially interesting in either musical or stage terms, but it featured an exceptional Elisabetta, sung by Anja Harteros.

I’ve had the opportunity to see this Jürgen Rose staging several times over the past 10 years, ago. I found it very poor on the first occasion, and I must say that it has not improved with time. The production (the Italian version in 5 acts) premiered in July 2000, conducted by Zubin Mehta, and is rather boring and repetitive, without the slightest hint of originality. A true minimalist production, it all takes place on a reduced stage enclosed by walls and a ceiling; the only advantage is that it helps with voice projection. There’s also the permanent presence of a huge crucified Christ. The set serves as prison and as Fontainebleau, and with the addition of a bed, it’s the king’s chamber. If we open a door to let in some light, here is the “Song of the Veil.” If we open a trapdoor, we are at San Giusto or the Auto-da-fé.

The musical direction was entrusted to Asher Fisch, whom I referred to in negative terms for his conducting of Elektra on July 16. He was more comfortable here, and his reading was firm and correct, never disturbing the singers, although it wasn’t particularly brilliant. Something happens, however, with Asher Fisch in Munich. For Elektra he received a sonorous booing, which was more or less justified. The booing  was repeated with Don Carlo, and I just do not understand it. There are very few times when one hears this in Munich, especially if it is an Italian opera; I’ve seen mediocrities in the pit here who have been well received by the public. This didn’t seem to surprise Mr. Fisch, judging from his face at his solo bow. The performance of the Bayerisches Staatsorchester was extremely good under his baton, and the chorus was also excellent.

There were substitutions in the cast which had a negative effect on the final result, although the presence of Anja Harteros and René Pape made one forget any shortcomings. Tenor Alfred Kim replaced Ramón Vargas as Don Carlo, and he was a modest protagonist. Mr. Kim knows all the notes in the score, but his singing is monotonous, and he has a tendency to hold his voice back.

Anja Harteros was Elisabetta, and I would say, as does Ford in Falstaff, “Is it a dream or real?” If her Arabella was extraordinary, her Elisabetta is exceptional. Ms. Harteros has the perfect voice for the character, and she sings like an angel, combining power and quality. Her interpretation in the final act, and in particular in the aria “Tu che le vanitá,” was a true Verdian monument. Today the German soprano is a reference in every role she sings. She is one of the very few singers whose appearance justifies any traveling necessary to enjoy her voice and her artistry. How lucky Munich is to have her, and Jonas Kaufmann as well, so frequently!

The other luxury was the presence of René Pape in the character of Philip II. He remains for me one of the best performers of the character  ̶  if not the best of them all. I found him less nuanced than before, with more open sounds and striving for volume on more than one occasion, but he remains an excellent King Philip II.

There was one more substitution. Simon Keenlyside cancelled again, and he was replaced as Rodrigo by Simone Piazzola. Obviously, there is a difference between them. Piazzola was correct, but I did not like his way of approaching the aria that precedes his death at the hands of the Inquisition. There were too many open sounds and little elegance. Someone should tell him that he doesn’t need to push at all to have his voice reach the audience.

Anna Smirnova was again Princess Eboli. She would have no problem appearing on the podium in any contest for vocal power, but her pure singing is something  else. Her “Song of the Veil” was irrelevant, but she showed her great power in “O, don fatale.”

I found Rafal Siwek unconvincing as the Grand Inquisitor. He was not up to what is required in the extraordinary scene of the two basses, one of the very best in the history of opera.

In the secondary characters Goran Juric was a remarkable monk and the Ghost of Charles V. Eri Nakamura was impressive as Tebaldo, as was Golda Schultz as Heaven’s Voice. Francesco Petrozzi did well as Lerma and as the King’s Herald in the Auto-da-fé.

José M. Irurzun


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