Sunday, 24 March 2019

Don Carlos, Paris - Jonas Kaufmann star production

At last - Verdi Don Carlo from L'Opéra de Paris, with Jonas Kaufmann,  Elina Garanča, Sonya Yoncheva, Ludovic Tézier, Dmitry Belosselskiy, Ildar Abdrazakov, conducted by Philippe Jordan, 2017 directed by Krzysztof Warlikowski on  Highly recommended on all counts.  Absolutely wipes the floor on the Royal Opera House (Italian version)  production from 2013 (please read more here).  The more he sings Don Carlo, the better Kaufmann gets into the soul of the character. Here he's supported by a wonderful cast, and superb direction from Jordan and Warlikowski.  Note, I said "direction" from conductor as well as director, because opera is Gesamtkunstwerk : everything operates together to enhance the drama.  If it was just about singing, we wouldn't need opera at all, and line singers up doing scales for comparison.  Unfortunately it takes a bit of thought to figure out how and why a production works as a whole. So much easier not to think !  You can't expect perfection every time, and shouldn't, but this one fires on all cylinders.

Stunning singing, not only from the soloists but supports and chorus, unusually inspired because they seem to be thinking about why and how the drama works.  Perhaps this is what gives this production the edge : everyone' engaged.  Verdi's Don Carlo is a tragedy, human beings trapped in situations they cannot resolve, no matter how privileged they might be.  Not for nothing Don Carlo and Elizabeth de Valois meet in a forest. Freudian symbolism before Freud, extended by the images of horses frozen in immoboility, not living beings.  Don Carlo's collects cuttings from newspapers to learn where he's supposed to stand in the game. He wears a cricket top, but isn't yet a player.  This idea of games and strategems runs throughout the production, for very good reasons. Realpolitik rules, not  human feeling. Religion intensifies the rigidity : the church plays games with souls and minds. Everyone's forced into rules not of their own making. Hence recurring images of walls, some solid, some tantalisingly transparent, like bars in a cage. Prisons with pretty decor are still prisons.

From the libretto, we know that Elizabeth senses her marriage as death.  She can trust no-one, and must be constantly on guard. Hence the image of the women as fencers, dehumanized, forced to be constantly alert.  A typical Warlikowski meme but a good one. This is the backdrop to the relationship between Elizabeth and Don Carlos, underlining the tension and fear that suppresses their natural instincts.  Hence the sub plots with Rodrigue, Marquis of Posa : who dares stand up for the oppressed, and with the Princess Eboli, who misinterprets signals.  Philip II reads the signals right, but his solution, forced on him by the church, is extreme. Only in death can there be justice.  No surprise that the bust of Charles V looks aghast !  He's learned the hard way that mortal status means nothing.  The death of Don Carlos is depicted in a black and white film image like the newspapers he studied in his youth. (Please read my piece Psychological Thriller on Ernst Krenek's Karl V, a completely different opera, but with similar ideas)   

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