Spain Verdi, Don Carlo: Teatro Real Chorus and Orchestra / Nicola Luisotti (conductor), Teatro Real, Madrid, 18 & 19.9.2019. (JMI)
Director – Sir David McVicar (original), Axel Weideauer (revival)
Sets – Robert Jones
Costumes – Brigitte Reiffenstuel
Lighting – Joachim Klein
Don Carlo – Marcelo Puente/Andrea Caré
Elisabetta – Maria Agresta/Ainhoa Arteta
Philip II – Dmitry Belosselskiy/Michele Pertusi
Rodrigo – Luca Salsi/Simone Piazzola
Princess Eboli – Ekaterina Semenchuk/Silvia Tro Santafé
Grand Inquisitor – Mika Kares/Rafal Siwek
Friar – Fernando Radó
Count of Lerma/King’s Herald – Moisés Marín
Tebaldo – Natalia Labourdette
Voice from Heaven – Leonor Bonilla
The Teatro Real 2019-2020 opera season has opened with this Giuseppe Verdi masterpiece, which was last presented here in June 2005. At that time, the spectacular Hugo de Ana production was staged under the musical direction of Jesús López Cobos.
But on this special occasion, rather than commission a new production, the Teatro Real surprisingly chose to offer the 12-year-old Frankfurt staging of the five-act version in Italian. It is not the best choice, in my opinion: the quality of the Fontainebleau act doesn’t measure up to the rest of the opera and unnecessarily lengthens an already extensive score. Verdi did well to revisit the score again and leave it reduced to the traditional four acts of the so-called Modena version (the one most frequently performed).
David McVicar is one of the most prestigious directors today, but this work doesn’t reflect his usual brilliance. The production uses one basic set for all five acts; the walls and floor are made of grey brick, and the rear wall lifts for outdoor scenes. Various elements rise from the floor to represent a tomb, a table or a platform. The scene at San Giusto features a large censer, while the one in Philip II’s chamber adds a curtain. For the Auto-da-fé, a large cross at the back goes up in flames. The costumes are suited to the historical period of the action and mainly in dark tones, although the general atmosphere of this production is less dark than usual.
McVicar’s direction nicely differentiates the characters, but the wisdom of having Don Carlo die at the hands of his father’s guards is debatable: it eliminates all the mystery at the end of the drama. Another questionable aspect is the fact that in the Auto-da-fé scene only members of the court are present. It should be remembered that these executions took place before the general public, although the court also attended.
Nicola Luisotti is the principal guest conductor of the Teatro Real, and his reading was correct though less impressive than I expected. The first part was somewhat bland, but the music gained in strength and drama from the scene of Filippo II and Rodrigo, and it was superb in the Auto-da-fé scene. Luisotti is one of the leading conductors of Verdi’s operas, and I always expect the best from him. He drew remarkable performances from the excellent orchestra and chorus.
Originally, the part of Don Carlo was to have been sung by tenor Francesco Meli, who is undoubtedly one of the best singers today in his range although his voice is not exceptional. However, he canceled some time ago and was replaced by Marcelo Puente, whom we had just seen as Pinkerton in San Sebastián. Puente has an attractive voice in the middle range, one suited to the demands of the character, although it loses quality in the high notes. His biggest problem is a lack of expressiveness which makes his performances somewhat monotonous.
The second Don Carlo was Andrea Caré, whom I found improved over his performance of the part in Valencia. His voice works well throughout the tessitura but is somewhat compromised on the highest notes. There is some monotony in his singing too, but he was more expressive than Marcelo Puente.
Elisabetta was sung in the first cast by soprano Maria Agresta, who was making her debut in the role. Her performance was unconvincing in vocal terms: her voice is lighter than desirable for this character. I have the impression that her voice has lost amplitude in recent times. The second Elisabetta was Ainhoa Arteta, whose voice is more appropriate to the role’s demands. She sang very well, particularly in the Act V aria ‘Tu, che le vanitá’ and in the subsequent duo with Don Carlo. It is not the first time I have heard her in the part – six years ago she sang it in Oviedo, and I found her more convincing now than I did then.
Philip II was played by bass Dmitry Belosselskiy, who continues to offer a broad and important voice in the character and gave a fine performance. He had to fight with the memory I have of René Pape’s performances in the role, and there is a difference between them which is not detrimental to Belosselskiy. In the second cast, Michele Pertusi once again offered his usual virtues and defects. He is a remarkable vocalist who is always very elegant in his singing, although he has the disadvantage that his instrument is not too wide. His interpretation was quite good, especially in the always awaited ‘Ella giammai m’amo’ and the subsequent scene with the Grand Inquisitor.
Mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk as Princess Eboli offered an attractive voice without any tessitura problems, singing with gusto and moving well on stage. Silvia Tro Santafé was also a good interpreter, although her voice is not exceptional. She was outstanding in the much anticipated ‘O, don fatale’.
Luca Salsi gave life to Rodrigo, the Marquis de Posa, and his vocal performance had no problems, but he too lacked some emotion in his singing. Simone Piazzola in the second cast has improved over recent occasions when I have seen him on stage. A few years ago, he was considered very promising but then had some vocal problems, which seem to be resolved.
Mika Kares was a disappointing Grand Inquisitor. His voice lacks authority and amplitude, which does not make for a threatening Inquisitor. Rafal Siwek in the second cast was more convincing, with a broader, better-suited voice for the part.
In the secondary characters, Moisés Marín as the Duke of Lerma and Herald and Fernando Radó as the Friar were correct, as was Leonor Bonilla as the Voice from Heaven. Natalia Labourdette’s voice was a bit small for the role of Tebaldo.
José M. Irurzun