Verdi on the grand scale, gloriously sung

By Lawrence A. Johnson

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;


Posted in Performances

2 Responses to “Verdi on the grand scale, gloriously sung”

  1. Posted Mar 17, 2009 at 9:44 pm by Alberto Mederos

    Yes! All South Florida opera aficionados should go see this Don Carlo. I have convinced Mary Turkieltaub to do the four hours plus drive because she will be well rewarded.
    Note: On the performance this past Sunday the 15th everything went smoothly including the “ghost” Charles V.
    Reyna Carguill was superb.

  2. Posted Mar 29, 2009 at 12:05 am by Bart Birdsall

    I just saw the final performance, and I enjoyed it overall. It moved very well dramatically for me, and Verdi’s music came through which is the whole point. De Renzi did a good job. I think the costumes were superb. The sets were nice but got a little boring (same steps and columns throughout) and I wish the auto da fe scene would have shown a (fake) fire somehow on stage or some other excitement. I felt the singers were mediocre except for Marco Nistico, who I thought was very good…..he even trilled, which you don’t hear many baritones doing!

    Last season when I saw Reyna Carguill in I Due Foscari, I almost walked out. I thought she was the worst soprano I had heard in my life. I wanted to see I Due Foscari, b/c I had never seen that opera, and that was the only reason I stayed for the whole show, b/c she made me want to leave. Tonight she redeemed herself to an extent. I read she was suffering from allergies last year, so that explains why her top voice was shrieky, flat, and just plain horrible in Due Foscari last year. Tonight she was okay, although she is not ready for the Met by any means and has a strange vibrato, in my opinion. If she could get a good voice teacher to help her she would be really, really good, b/c she has a good lower register. I think the voice sounds a bit undisciplined. She has some good raw material there. But I was glad to find out she sounds half way decent normally when her allergies aren’t acting up.

    If this had not been the final performance I would have recommended people see this as well. Verdi’s music is the whole reason to have seen it.

Leave a Comment

Wed Mar 11, 2009
at 6:04 pm