About This Blog

I really like theatre, and I like writing and talking about it.

This blog is mostly about my relationship with theatre, the moments that make me fall in love with this art form, and the times when we don't always get along.

I'll be writing about things that I like, that I think are good and interesting and want to share. I will probably also write about things that I don't quite get, or think are wierd. I may also write about things that aren't theatre, strictly speaking, because it's my blog and I can.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Met's Live in HD screening of Don Carlo

Saturday morning, my opera-companion/roommate and I got up early to attend a live transmission of Don Carlo from The Metropolitan opera. I wanted to see this one for two reasons: Verdi and Simon Keenlyside.

Verdi is a favorite of mine--I adore La Traviata, and I wasn't familiar with  Don Carlo, so I wanted to check it out. As I mentioned before in my post about Hamlet, Simon Keenlyside is a great performer (I strongly recommend the Covent Garden recording of The Magic Flute, in which he plays Papageno), and I agree with the assessment in the NY Times review that he brings out the best in others on stage with him.

Ok, enough about him. Don Carlo requires several strong leads, and they were all terrific. Roberto Alagna in the title role is a very appealing leading man; Marina Poplavskaya plays his love Elisabeth, who is a very complicated character--she is engaged to Don Carlo, who arranges to meet her and they hit it off, only to have his father Phillip decide that he will marry her himself, instead. Elisabeth is a very honorable character, in my opinion. She takes one for the team by marrying Phillip to cement a peace treaty, and despite her love for his son, she never betrays him. Nor does she misrepresent her feelings; when Phillip confronts her she doesn't lie to him, either.

Roberto Alagna stars in the title role, opposite Marina Poplavskaya as Elisabeth.
Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

The other female lead is Princess Eboli, who interferes with the lovers when she thinks she's spotted treachery. Anna Smirnova plays her and she's a bigger girl, and as a costumer I couldn't help noticing how the excellent tailoring of her gowns emphasized her her curves to give her a sensual, Rubenesque quality. Eboli is a passionate creature, and Smirnova knocked it out of the park with her powerful aria in which she curses where her pride and vanity have lead her.

Keenlyside with Anna Smirnova (Princess Eboli)
Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera 

One of the strongest performances was given by Ferruccio Furlanetto as King Phillip, who has a gorgeous voice. He has a really interesting character arc, because you have to think "this is the bad guy", until he given his aria where he admits to his doubts and fear of inadequacy. This section is so well-structured because you think he's the villain of the piece, and just as he's starting the create sympathy in you, you realize "this isn't the bad guy, because there's someone much worse". We're in the midst of the Spanish Inquisition, and the monarchy is ruled by the church. Enter the Grand Inquisitor (Eric Halfvarson)--he's old and blind, he walks with shuffly steps and his hand shakes. And he is freaking terrifying.

Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
Ferruccio Furlanetto as King Phillip

One of my favorite things about the opera itself was the final aria between Don Carlo and Elisabeth. They meet secretly and admit that though they love each other, they have no future together. So they vow to take this passion that they share, and go out and do something constructive with it. I thought that was really beautiful. In most stories of star-crossed love, the lovers are crushed under the weight of their circumstances. It was so nice then to see these to people say "let's use this for something good instead".

I was also happy with the design elements of the production. It used a simple color palette, mostly black, red, and gold. It was in-period, but everything had a very clean, modern look to it. I saw some complaints from other arts bloggers about the Lego-ey set, but I liked the use of things like the tall walls with small square windows, through which dramatic shafts of light could shine. The costumes were unfussy, with most of the detail in small areas of beading, and otherwise relied on strong fabric choices and tailoring that creates clean silhouettes.

The problems? Well, it's long. Don't start grumbling about modern attention spans, 4 1/2 hours is a long time to sit and watch a show no matter who you are. This is just how things were in Verdi's time, and there was a very narrow set of ideals for opera structure. The singing was glorious, so I didn't mind that much, but after that much sitting your body gets fussy. Also there was some clumsy camera work that would occasionally get lost in the wrong part of the stage, or stuck on an angle of the floor.

It's also worth noting the enjoyable between-act interviews conducted by soprano Deborah Voigt; particularly with her La Fanciulla del West co-star Marcello Giordani--when she asked what his favorite part of the production was (insinuating that the answer should be "Working with you!"), Giordani got a mischievous look in his eyes, and went in for a passionate kiss! The audience (and the soprano) were extremely amused, and being a consummate professional she straightened herself up and continued introducing the next interview!

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