Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond
September 24, 2018
Los Angeles Opera opened it’s 2018/2019 season last weekend with a return of Verdi’s Don Carlo. It had a dream cast, even though that dream may have been from 15 years ago. In some ways that might be appropriate in that the production itself from 2006 is being revived here for the first time. And a dozen years later, the two best things about the show were still intact – the superb conducting from LA Opera music director James Conlon and the unparalleled bass Feruccio Furlanetto as the besieged-on-all-sides King Philip II of Spain. The cast also featured Ramon Vargas in the title role, Anna Smirnova as Princess Eboli and Ana Maria Martinez as Elisabeth de Valois. All of them had their moments, though the chemistry between the cast often felt lukewarm on this opening night. It wasn’t until the series of star solo moments in the final two acts that the show really started to take off when each of these excellent singers was given their chance to shine on their own unencumbered. Another big hero of the evening was Chorus Master Grant Gershon, who continues to deliver a vastly improved chorus that repeatedly stepped up to the task at hand with flair on opening night.
And then there was Placido Domingo. The company’s General Director, biggest advocate and patron, and an unquestionable living legend. This production follows the model of the tenor’s performances of latter years by casting him in the premiere baritone role, in this case Rodrigo, and letting him do what he does best — provide a stirring performance with his voice — essentially what the art of opera is at its very core. That has not changed, and he is amazing to watch. He is certainly reason enough to see the show. But it is not a performance that quells all of the questions and criticisms of his output in these recent years of his career. His is not the ideal voice for these baritone roles. And when he appears as Carlos’ young, idealistic brother-in-spirit, the age difference between him and the rest of the cast is readily apparent. It’s a great wig and costume to be sure, but there is something missing chemistry-wise. And while Domingo’s vocalism goes a long was to correct that disparity, it doesn’t quite overcome it.
The production, originally from Ian Judge, hasn’t aged entirely well and now looks somewhat thin and undercooked compared to 2006. The production was telecast to remote locations for outdoor audiences in Los Angeles County this year, and that camerawork may have well livened up some of the more bland moments in the house. It was certainly a nice gesture to the community from the company and one that many other companies around the world have done in recent years. The good news is that there are still 5 performances left and likely some of that opening night stiffness that plagued the first half of the evening will relax into a great show.