Verdi on the grand scale, gloriously sung
SARASOTA. Epic sweep and breadth, a dozen roles, majestic court scenes, rousing choruses, and a tangled love quadrangle set against a treacherous milieu of deadly power politics that makes Machiavelli seem like a bumpkin. Such is the world of Verdi’s Don Carlo, presented Tuesday night at Sarasota Opera.
Set in 16th-century Spain, Don Carlos, heir to the Spanish throne is torn between his fealty to his father, the tyrannical King Philippe II, and his revolutionary support for the people of Flanders shared with his close friend Rodrigue. More personally, and even more difficult is his personal situation, with his betrothed, the French princess Elisabeth de Valois, forced to marry the king Philippe, greatly complicating family get-togethers, and setting into motion the complex scenario in which the political and personal become intertwined.
Verdi’s richest and most challenging work, the French opera was presented in Paris in 1867 in a massive five-act version, complete with the ballet the Parisian audiences demanded. With dismissive notices, Don Carlos was revised, often and exists in a bewildering array of editions, in both French and Italian. Artistic director Victor DeRenzi has opted to present Verdi’s 1882 version, which the composer, somewhat grudgingly, revamped himself. “Seeing that my legs have to be cut off,” Verdi write, “I have preferred to sharpen and wield the knife myself.”
The 1882 version loses half the original score, including the opening Fontainebleau scene, and the ballet, with one-third of this version consisting of newly composed music. This four-act version runs as many hours (with two intervals), yet remains a different yet equally artistically viable experience. There is a staggering wealth of music in this opera, the tangled alliances and romantic betrayals brimming with confrontation arias, duets and ensemble moments.
Considering the challenges of presenting this vast ensemble work, Sarasota Opera has served up a distinguished, often thrilling production, boasting one of the most consistently cast and gloriously sung Verdi productions, the company has given us in recent years.
In the pivotal title role, Gustavo Lopez Manzitti made one sit up at attention from his very first notes. The Argentinian tenor posseses a ripe, ample lyric tenor with a yearning sweetenss and disalayed extraordinary stamina, singing full out in Act 1 and continuing to do so for the next four hours, with expressive shading as required as well.
As his comrade-in-arms, Rodrigue, Marco Nistico built on his impressive Sarasota debut last season as Francesco in I due Foscari. The Italian baritone was a dashing presence, blending with Manzini in a thrilling oath duet, and singing with a darkly authoritative tone and firmly focused line.
Lucrezia in last year’s Foscari, Reyna Carguill was pressed into service as Elizabeth on short notice when the scheduled soprano bowed out the day before rehearsals. The Panamanian soprano sang with such spirit and expressive intensity that one could hardly believe she had just learned the role in a few weeks, Carguill’s performance fgrew as the long evening unfolded, and she was at her finest in the final act.
As Princess Eboli, Stella Zambalis was a strongly emotive presence, bringing big soprano tone and depth to the conflicted character. Kevin Short as Philippe deliverd uncommon depth, deep sonority and humanity to the tyrant, with a show-stopping rendition of his soliloquy, Elle ne m’aime pas.
Equally fine were Jeffrey Tucker’s Grand Inquisitor, Benjamin Gelfand’s Monk and Maria D’Amato as the page, Thibault. Under Roger L. Bingaman’s direction the chorus sang with robust tone and polish. And the usual Sarsota production team of David P. Gordon and Howard Tsvi Kaplan provided colorful costuming in the company’s vein of sturdy tradition.
What can say about Victor DeRenzi that hasn’t been said? Sarasota’s artistic director remains one of our finest Verdi conductors, providing an annual seminar in Verdi style. If Tuesday night’s performance was a notch below DeRenzi’s usual blazing intensity, the payoff was clear in an even greater richness, elegance and subtlety he brought to this long and challenging score. The playing of the orchestra was, as usual, superb.
Stephanie Sundine provided solid, naturalistic direction, though at this second performance the production still seemed to be finding its legs: there were some stagy moments in Act 1, and the climactic appearance of Carlos V at the opera’s close was unclearly realized and lacking the requisite dramatic payoff.
It’s not every season-or any season in Florida—one has the opportunity to hear this complex and fascinating opera, and aficionados should definitely make the road trip.
Verdi’s Don Carlo runs through March 28 at Sarasota Opera. $25-$115. 941-366-8450; www.sarasotaopera.org.
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Wed Mar 11, 2009
at 6:04 pm