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How many Don Carlos does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

June 16, 2008

Act II from Don Carlo
Photo : Wiener Staatsoper 2008

It’s June in Vienna and we all know what that means - Don Carlo fever continues! Not to be left out with new productions in London and a revival in Paris, the Vienna State Opera put its two cents worth in with a star-studded revival of its own. Included here were the Philip II of René Pape and Thomas Hampson as Rodrigo. The cast also included Luciana D’Intino as Eboli, Norma Fantini as Elisabeta and Franco Farina as Don Carlo. So how did things turn out? Not bad, but they could have been better. At the heart of the problem here is the need for a major suspension of disbelief. Yes, this is not unusual at all for opera, but there are limits. What person in their right mind is going to be tempted to even think about going behind the back of René Pape for a tenor. Especially Franco Farina. Especially when you’re René’s freaking queen and you could have the tenor axed by the Spanish Inquisition with little more than a thought. Let’s get real people. You could at least get the man a gray wig to tone down his hotness and provided some half-hearted attempt at consistency.

This isn’t the only problem, however. The Pier Luigi Pizzi production, which is older than I care to investigate, has seen much better days. It’s small, dreary, and poorly lit. Everyone on stage could have used a cell phone considering how much time they all had to sing in the dark far from anyone else including the audience. The cast should be given credit for not just standing around and singing, which the set nearly forces them to do. Unfortunately, there was a particularly weak link in the cast and that is Franco Farina. He was not originally in the announced cast of this revival and appears to be a last minute replacement. We’ve had some not so pleasant performances from him in L.A. and little has changed.

Still the evening was far from a total loss. Pape, Hampson, and D’Intino were all quite good. Marco Armiliato was at the podium and again led a winner of a performance from the orchestra. If there is anything that has been consistently great during these last few days of opera in Vienna it’s been the quality of the opera orchestra, and, honestly, that is almost reason enough in and of itself to see any of these productions including this musty old Don Carlo. Now if I could just meld some of the elements from the Paris production with some of the elements from Vienna, we might have a really good show in there somewhere. There are three more performances as well as an additional three performances of the French version conducted by Bertrand de Billy with a completely different production and cast including Ramon Vargas. That’s it for now. See you in Amsterdam.

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