Joni Henson as Elisabeth. Photo by Tim MathesonVancouver Opera

Don Carlo Music by Giuseppe Verdi Libretto by G. Mery and C. DuLocle after Schiller

Dates and Venue 3, 8, 10, May 2014, 7.30pm, pm, matinee 11 May 2.00 pm | Queen Elizabeth Theatre

Don Carlo Andrea Carè Rodrigo Brett Polegato Tebaldo Kristin Hoff Princess Eboli Mary Phillips Elisabeth de Valois Joni Henson Philip II Peter Volpe Herald Frédérik Robert Celestial Voice Melanie Kreuger Count Lerma Martin Sadd Grand Inquisitor Gregory Frank

Conductor Jonathan Darlington Director Paul Peers Scenic Design Peter Dean Beck Lighting Design Gerald King Chorus Director Leslie Dala Stage Manager Sheila Munn

Sung in Italian with English SURTITLESTM

Reviewer Elizabeth Paterson

Don Carlo now playing at the QE is a grand production of a grand opera, grandly accomplished.  Lavish in scale with a cast of nearly 90, and broad in scope, with international politics, war and the power of the Church all being forces at play, while personal emotions clash with moral and political imperatives.  Verdi’s music is correspondingly deeply rich and challenging, requiring singers of the highest order.

The cast is very strong.  Amongst those in the smaller roles, Kristin Hoff as the page Tebaldo was absolutely charming in voice and person.   In the auto-da-fe scene, the pure soprano voice of Melanie Krueger (a Celestial Voice) floated thrillingly above the grim cruelty on the ground.

Joni Henson’s bold soprano admirably conveyed Elisabeth de Valois’ strength of feeling yet never over-whelmed so vulnerable a character.  She is in a very dangerous position.  Although she is Queen of Spain, the King’s son Don Carlo, once her fiancé, still adores her, she is isolated, far from home, in some eyes an expendable pawn.

Don Carlo further endangers himself by opposing the King. He is persuaded by Rodrigo (Brett Polegato) to take up the cause of Flanders which is a Protestant country harshly ruled by Catholic Spain. Andrea Carè, febrile and energetic, expresses a very wide range of emotions with a beautiful and powerful tenor voice and dynamic acting. Polegato gives Rodrigo a more even or perhaps hidden character. Unobtrusive acting combined with a lyrical tenor, there is little showy about Rodrigo. The duet with Don Carlo “Dio che nell'alma infondere” as they swear eternal friendship was precisely balanced, voice matching voice. his final aria “Io morrò, ma lieto in core”, intensely moving.

In the only really light moments of the opera, the Veil Song ("Nel giardin del bello") Mary Phillips (Princess Eboli) was utterly seductive and great fun. A splendid singing actress, she was equally effective in the garden scene. She slid effortlessly from the anticipation of love into fierce revenge mode when she discovered Don Carlo loved Elisabeth and not her.

All these characters, strong as they are, revolve around King Philip (Peter Volpe). Dark, brooding, compelled to be cruel by duty as he thinks, Philip is a stern and ruthless monarch. Nevertheless, alone in his study, dwarfed by the vastness of his palace, Philip sees himself as he is, elderly, alone, with a wife who does not love him. He considers his rebellious son and his cowed subjects but returns finally to his wife. Volpe’s” Ella giammai m'amò” was unsettled and unsettling and ultimately deeply moving. The sudden arrival of the Grand Inquisitor (Gregory Frank) was electrifying.

The Inquisitor is old, frail, blind, palsied and terrifyingly powerful. The skirmish between the two men for the upper hand for Church or State was chilling, both bass voices constantly moving, parting, threatening, as flexible and mobile as fencers.

The period costumes reference contemporary portraits and pictures in subdued colour for the populace and a chiefly black and white palette for the court. The Grand Inquisitor in cardinal’s scarlet was a dramatic shock at every appearance on stage.

In contrast the set (Peter Dean Beck) was far less specific, merely suggesting a monastery, a garden, or a public square allowing Gerald King’s lighting to underpin the mood.

The stage direction was also restrained. The enormous chorus of nearly 70 not only sang very well, well-balanced and clear, but also moved well in their varying characters as monks, courtiers, soldiers and other citizenry. Grand public spectacle moved easily into intimate, personal scenes. Two quibbles. The Friar/Ghost (Chad Louwerse in fine voice) in figure and action lacked any degree of mystery and Don Carlo's final departure from the scene was prosaic to say the least. Secondly, the decision to cut the opening act at the French court may have seemed necessary but is unfortunate. It provides a firm context for understanding the politics involved, for Queen Elisabeth’s position and for Don Carlo’s obsessive passion.

The music was paramount. Jonathan Darlington led the orchestra in an unrelenting, inexorable performance, beautifully paced, clear and rich.

For a profound and challenging night at the opera, Vancouver Opera is to be congratulated.

© 2014 Elizabeth Paterson