By The Numbers
Metropolitan Opera House
Giuseppe Verdi: Don Carlo
Sondra Radvanovsky (Elizabeth)
Violetta Urmana (Eboli)
Richard Margison (Carlo)
Dwayne Croft (Rodrigo)
Ferruccio Furlanetto (Philip)
Samuel Ramey (Inquisitor)
Ignoring the fact that there are at least five differing performing versions, there are always two Don Carlos (or, if you prefer, Don Carloses). By this I do not mean the French and Italian libretti, but rather that the work as a whole is divided rather dramatically into two distinct parts of varying quality. Since the number of acts and scenes is open to question, the best way to describe the line of demarcation is that it immediately follows the auto-da-fe. The first part is actually rather weak by Verdian standards, the second immensely strong and famously spectacular.
So how did the Metropolitan Opera do in these two recent productions? On Saturday afternoon for a worldwide broadcast audience, they presented a rather good effort, but one that never achieved a higher level of greatness. To borrow a word used on other occasions by one of New York’s most perceptive critics, Jay Nordlinger, this performance suffered from “okayness”.
In some ways, this was a second cast rendition. Not only was the performance not a heralded new production, but over the years it has lost its superstar imprimatur with the stepping down from its particular podium of James Levine. Additionally, there were two major changes from the premiere, Samuel Ramey taking over as the Grand Inquisitor and Violetta Urmana as Eboli. I did not see the opening night, but, at best, the company improved the performance by only fifty percent.
New Dresden boss Fabio Luisi led a taut, Levine-like, reading, filled in the orchestra pit with drama when it really counted. Unfortunately, not all of the singers could follow his terpsichorean lead. Starting at the bottom, Richard Margison was a serviceable title character in terms of singing, but is a card-carrying member of the “is it raining?” school of dreadful operatic actors. As he ambled into the courtyard at the work’s conclusion in order to be saved by his grandfather, one had the sense that Don Carlo really was an idiot.
Ms. Urmana is an interesting case study, having moved from mezzo to soprano and now attempting to come back down for this role. She accomplished the descent well enough, but her Eboli was stiff and uninteresting. In fact, the only time that she sounded really melodic was during the duet with the Tebaldo of Sandra Lopez in the middle of the Moorish Love Song. Her O Don Fatale was simply shrill. My companion and I saw this same production some fifteen years ago and we were reminiscing about the Eboli of Tatiana Troyanos during intermission when a woman approached us to second my emotion that that was an Eboli for the ages (to be fair, my companion was not impressed with Troyanos at the time). And she did it with only one eye!
In the dead center of the okay category were Dwayne Croft as Rodrigo and Sondra Radvanovsky as Elizabeth. There was little about which to complain in either of these performances, but neither was particularly moving.
Much more satisfying was the Inquisitor of Ramey, whose powerful basso degenerated brilliantly into simple guttural growls by the end of the scene with Philip. He was perhaps a bit too vital a physical presence for a ninetysomething blind man, but he was indeed commanding. Also, in that great casting office in the sky, there are very few purer deep voices that that of Vitalij Kowaljow to portray Carlo Quinto. When Ramey ended the opera with the horrified “it is the voice of Carlo!”, I shuddered audibly. Saving the best for last is an old theatrical trick and it worked splendidly this afternoon.
Finally, the Philip of Ferruccio Furlanetto was superb in the Dormiro Sol soliloquy, but a bit underplayed in the remainder of the piece. In order for us to really feel the depths of the king’s loneliness, we need to recognize his haughty grandeur and here the characterization was weak. It was easy to see in this tentative performance that he was indeed the father of the decidedly unregal Carlo. But the soliloquy was quite moving, the combination of solo cello and rich basso thrilling. At the end of a day at the Escurial, isn’t this why we came in the first place?
Frederick L. Kirshnit