Eterno addio…Per sempre addio. These are the last words the lovers Carlo and Elisabetta sing before they are brutally separated by King Philip. The curtain falls quickly and the audience breaks into thunderous applause. We are all sure that we are not likely to experience such a wonderful evening of opera again for a long time. It was a varied evening full of perfect moments. Fantastic singers, a terrific orchestra and an ingenious production made this evening unforgettable.
Love and politics, ominous and inextricably linked – this combination is the starting point for many of the tragic operas of Verdi. In Don Carlo it is the unhappy love of the Spanish prince for Elisabetta that has inspired Verdi to create a score of great psychological refinement and unrivaled depth. Freshly in love, the young Carlo learns that his father, King Philip II, wants, for political reasons, to take the French princess Elisabetta for his own wife. To distract Carlos from the pain of his unhappy love, the Marquis Posa tries to persuade him to join in the freedom struggle of the province of Flanders. The intrigue of the Princess Eboli, Elisabetta’s despair over her thwarted love for Carlo, the brutal action of the inquisitors – all contribute to the tragic outcome.
Sven-Eric Bechtholf creates a completely fresh view of the events of the plot with his production from the year 2012. The political dimension of this production is not so much shown in the burning of the heretics and in the popular uprising initiated by Princess Eboli. Instead it manifests itself in the protagonists themselves. They hardly seem to live at all; they act as if petrified by fear of a regime that spies on everyone and liquidates dissidents. There is therefore a paralyzing state of inaction portrayed on the stage; in the duets, the singers usually stand motionless side by side or behind each other. And thus the audience is given a completely different view of the drama. We do not see a simple love story but the conditions and threats to which the loving are exposed. Bechtholf and his team (Rolf and Marianne Glittenberg) succeeded in renewing the story but maintaining the aesthetics. This staging has so many facets that the tension never drops throughout the three hours. Bechtholf’s outstanding interpretation of the piece is an important ingredient for success of this evening.
But from the musical side too, this evening made the heart of every opera lover beat faster. Above all, we loved the fantastic Anja Harteros, who has not only the look of a Maria Callas, but also a voice which seems made for the role of Elisabetta. Her perfectly focused soprano has now seamlessly integrated the darker colours gained in recent years. Her voice sounds wonderfully free, open and natural. And the effortless, almost casual, perfection with which she copes with all the vocal challenges does not diminish her emotional intensity. Her interpretation of the role was so touching that after her big aria “S’ancor si piange in cielo” one wished to hear the whole aria again. The audience responded with an ovation. Brava!
The other singers did not leave much to be desired. One must say that Ramon Vargas was the weakest on this evening. His bright and clear tenor delivered quite beautiful moments, but one hears the tiredness after three hours, so he was often overshadowed by the rest of this grand ensemble. Peter Mattei offers a sterling balance of voice, acting and stage magnetism in this protean role. His lyric sound is mellow and buttery, meltingly sweet in seductive moments. Posa’s aria in the third act was certainly one of the highlights of this evening. René Pape delivers the heated duet with the Grand Inquisitor with true Bel Canto artistry. His King Philip makes it clear from the first moment that he undertakes his office with great psychological reservations: anxiety and conscience pursue this man mercilessly. Pape avoids the mighty bas-reliefs, with which other great role model singers still score points. This brings out the man behind the façade of the dictator, enriching the interpretation with a moving new facet. A fantastic house debut brought us Marina Prudenskaya as Eboli, and an interpretation which is characterized by veracity and emotional power. Her dramatic mezzo gives Eboli the necessary fine-tuning and her aria “O don fatale” got thunderous applause from the audience – well deserved. Rafael Siwek follows in the footsteps of a Matti Salminen. His roaring bass is made for the Grand Inquisitor.
A fantastic chorus (rehearsed by Ernst Raffelsberger) and a high-powered orchestra, conducted by Fabio Luisi, rounded the evening off. He conducted with great precision and managed to make this popular opera something even more special. The audience in the opera house rewarded the performers with ovations and loud cheers for an evening of opera of the highest class.
In Italian with German and English surtitles
- By Giuseppe Verdi
- Conductor: Fabio Luisi
- Producer: Sven-Eric Bechtolf
- Chorus masters: Ernst Raffelsberger, Janko Kastelic
- Choir: Chor der Oper Zürich Zusatzchor der Oper Zürich SoprAlti
- Cast includes: Anja Harteros, René Pape, Ramon Vargas, Peter Mattei, Marina Prudenskaya
- Opernhaus Zürich, Switcherland
- Until 10 December 2016
- Review by Fabio Andrea Rickenmann