Canadian Opera Company Toronto

Don Carlos by Giuseppe Verdi

Dates and Venue 12, 17, 23, 25, 31 October and 3 November @ 19.00; 20 October @ 16.30 and 28 October 2007 @ 14.00 | Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto

Elisabeth Adrianne Pieczonka / Joni Henson (23 Oct) Philip II Terje Stensvold Grand Inquisitor Ayk Martirossian Don Carlos Mikhail Agafonov Princess Eboli Guang Yang (12, 17, 25, 28 Oct) Mary Phillips ( 20, 23, 31 Oct, 3 Nov) Rodrigue Scott Hendricks

Conductor Paolo Olmi Director John Caird Sets Johan Engels Costumes Carl Friedrich Oberle Lighting Nigel Levings

Reviewer J H Stape

Verdi’s 1867 opera, like its model, Schiller’s great play about various kinds of power, is a sprawling masterpiece. Verdi’s version demands large forces, great singers, and intelligent stage direction and conducting for maximum impact. This thrilling Canadian Opera Company production, a joint staging with Welsh National Opera, scores high in all categories.

The company mounts the 1867 Paris version, in French, the Italian Don Carlo having fallen increasingly out of favour during the past few decades. This version restores not only the first Fontainebleau act but other bits of music, particularly to the final scene. The choice makes for a theatrical experience nearly four and a half hours long that keeps the audience on its seats throughout.

Sombre and dark, this staging is quietly elegant, the moments of intensity shot through with tension. The costumes, in themselves stunning, are a mish-mash of periods in an attempt to suggest the universality of Verdi’s themes: power hollows out those who hold it, love does not triumph over tyranny, and religion mingled with politics is essentially fascistic.

In the pit Paolo Olmi drove his orchestra to musical heights, not only in the big moments like Philip II’s coronation scene, but also in the quieter lyric moments and in the opera’s grand arias. He offered confident and authoritative support to the chorus, in superb form, and to the principals.

Singing was fine to superb across the board, if French diction – notoriously difficult for non-native speakers – often enough proved wavering. Mikhail Agafonov in the title-role sang well, but acted woodenly and thus did not wholly convey Carlos’s formidable strengths and equally formidable neuroticism.

Canadian soprano Adrianne Pieczonka, in superb voice, made her Elisabeth de Valois relentlessly exciting in a performance that glowed, and Chinese mezzo Guang Yang, as Princess Eboli, poured out melting honey-tones and glorious high notes that filled the house. Mark her as a singer of massive talent with a huge career in her future.

Norwegian bass-baritone Terje Stensvold offered high drama and a fine sense of character as the villainous tyrant, Philip II of Spain, his voice pleasingly dark and expressive, while American baritone Scott Hendricks as Rodrigue proved a fine actor-singer especially exciting in his duet with Don Carlos and in his death scene but offering deftly crafted characterization throughout.

The Grand Inquistor of Armenian basso Ayk Martirossian conjured up evil effectively though there were moments when more vocal heft would have made his performance even more compelling. In the small role of the spirit of Charles V Czech bass Zdenek Plech shone, and the Celestial Voice of Virginia Hatfield was nothing less than ethereal.

The acoustics of the new Four Season Centre for the Performing Arts are a marvel, and finally allow the audience to hear this fine company as it should have been heard throughout those dreary years in the O’Keefe (later Hummingbird) Centre. Long Canada’s premier opera company, the COC can now contend as a serious player on the international opera scene. All Canadian opera lovers owe a debt to the company’s recently deceased director Richard Bradshaw whose vision and energy have ensured that opera in Toronto and thus throughout Canada will continue to thrive.

© 2007 J. H. Stape