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Plácido’s Powerful Shift in rôles

Los Angeles
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
09/22/2018 -  & September 29, October 4*, 7, 11, 14, 2018
Giuseppe Verdi: Don Carlo
Ramón Vargas (Don Carlo), Ana María Martínez (Elisabeth de Valois), Anna Smirnova (Princess Eboli), Plácido Domingo (Rodrigo, Marquis de Posa), Ferruccio Furlanetto/Alexander Vinogradov* (King Philip II), Morris Robinson (The Grand Inquisitor), Solomon Howard (a friar), Taylor Raven (Tebaldo), Joshua Wheeker (Count Lerma), Liv Redpath (a celestial voice)
Los Angeles Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Grant Gershon (chorus director), Roberto Cani (concertmaster), James Conlon (conductor)
Ian Judge (original production), Louisa Muller (stage director), John Gunter (set designer), Tim Goodchild (costume designer), Rick Fisher (lighting designer), Kitty McNamee (choreographer)

P. Domingo (© Cory Weaver)

The grand opéra, Don Carlo (sans mandated ballet), comes to The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion once again which slimly “re-adjusts”, giving pause and reflection on the original production’s strengths while infusing elements that deepen the concentration and severity of the plot. Thus, Don Carlo now stands as a bridge to the past and pathway to the future…the meaning of Verdi’s twenty-fifth opera is justifiably convincing while gnawing at captivation.

History has a way of repeating itself, and in this case, Los Angeles Opera plays it safe by revisiting Ian Judge’s perspective from 2006. Returning duo John Gunter and Tim Goodchild, from the set and costume departments, respectively, reconvene in a ditto delivery; however, thin slices of accoutrements punctuate a dash of depth: bas-relief is devoted to Charles V’s tomb while the spirit of the dead emperor is physically present in the front and back of the opera; whirling black veils (in Act II) ingeniously create more effective response of movement. While Duane Schuler’s lumens expertise is hard to match, Rick Fisher’s response is similarly fitting with subdued and dusky tints to emphasize the opera’s soberness and moodiness.

The thread of continuity between 2006 and 2018 is grounded by domains of Plácido Domingo, Ferruccio Furlanetto and James Conlon...but with a twist. In a personal interview with Ferruccio Furlanetto in 2006, one discerns how much he embraces the role of King Philip II. In a “passing of the baton” of sorts, nonetheless, we have another predilection for the character within the youthful reaches of Alexander Vinogradov. His arresting debut of Escamillo in last year’s Carmen anticipates and congeals unflinching bass pronouncements as it translates into a veritable reign of suspicion and vengeance as the King of Spain. M. Vinogradov’s gravelly weight throws a pall of broody dominance over the entire evening.

We respect and we acquiesce to James Conlon when it comes to opera demeanor for the critically-poised conductor has the power to deliver. Much of this successful Don Carlo centers around his persuasion. Debuting Louisa Muller carries the plotline with great fluidity by refusing to drop the curtain between acts and scenes (with exception of the one much-needed intermission.) This objective, complimented by M. Conlon’s breakneck tempo, taunts the audience with anticipatory anxiousness, relevance in equation and revelations of Verdi’s rawness.

The big story of this production is the irony pivoting around illustrious Plácido Domingo. His Marquis of Posa, now the sixth Verdi role in Los Angeles under James Conlon’s realm, is simply stultifying. Since listeners have been conditioned to M. Domingo’s Don Carlo for years, the shift to a lower baritone register works remarkably well for the esteemed General Director: we witness a rejuvenation of energy, stocked by a well-tailored tessitura which never stops ticking. Plácido Domingo is the musical barometer and the gauge of vocal superiority. Unquestionably, M. Domingo overtakes the stage [in a grand way], so much that the rôle appears to place greater importance than that of the eponymous heir; therefore, the act of heroism trends more heavily in Domingo’s court instead Ramón Vargas'. Despite mellifluous blending binding the two during the “Mates’ Duet”, Ramón Vargas’ outreach gets swallowed up.

A.M. Martínez (© Cory Weaver)

“Benevolent in light, polished with hope and steadfast in purity”, Ana María Martínez’s introspective take of Elisabeth de Valois takes on its own metamorphosis. Mlle. Martínez has been methodical as to when to tackle particular Verdi roles, and she’s been patient about the timing to tackle Henry II’s daughter. Her previous rôles have rounded out her repertoire, and laid a foundation for thoughtful maturity inside her Elisabeth. One is taken by her emotional shifts: vulnerability, sincerity, innocence, anger. She fashions fascination by pinching Verdi’s highest notes into celestial lifts with her Act IV solo aria [ref: “Toi qui sus le néant”] being one of the most engaging moments inside this Don Carlo.

A. Smirnova (© Cory Weaver)

Tim Goodchild’s flaming red hair and black eye patch roughen Anna Smirnov’s irritability and debauchery as Princess Eboli. The Muscovite’s lady-in-waiting paints the stage with defiant inflections while maximizing sassiness, confidence and jealousy. For matters of religious directive, Los Angeles Opera favorite Morris Robinson’s Grand Inquisitor has a throaty, coated directive that thirsts for none and drags one into the drama ten-fold.

Returning Kitty McNamee re-enacts her original choreography, though some of the blocking variations trend on a grander scale, thereby eliciting stronger softness and less abrasion. Grant Gershon’s chorus takes top billing in choral scenes, particularly inside the auto da fé which brims with strength, tension, position and fright, though the self-flagellation appears weak and unremarkable. Pity.

Los Angeles Opera’s Don Carlo can be heralded as a true pièce de théâtre: economical, mighty, and arresting. But in the end, clearly Plácido Domingo has the upper hand in this quintessential Verdi.

Christie Grimstad



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