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By Joel Kasow

NEW YORK, 15 APRIL 2011 — Verdi’s Don Carlo is one of those under-appreciated masterpieces that should never long be out of anyone’s repertoire despite the heavy casting demands, largely fulfilled in the Metropolitan Opera’s HD live cinema broadcast that can now be seen on PBS stations across the United States in its series Great Performances at the Met (check local listings). This new production staged by Nicholas Hytner in basic sets and sumptuous costumes by Bob Crowley is shared with Covent Garden (a DVD is already available) and the Norwegian Opera. Hytner’s work is traditional, but the close-ups capture the interactions that would be largely imperceptible in the vast reaches of the Met auditorium, and this is a cast that is up to such a task. One might question the addition of an officiating priest during the auto-da-fé who smirks too much, or why the drop curtain falls on several scenes leaving Carlo in front when he would probably rather be backstage having a sip of water and a mop of the brow.

Musically, Yannick Nézet-Séguin led an exciting performance, nonetheless capturing the underlying melancholy. Roberto Alagna’s impetuous Carlo occasionally goes sharp on a high note but there are sufficient compensations. Simon Keenlyside is a singer who takes naturally to close-ups and while his voice may be a size too small for listeners in the house, he is a perfect Posa here. Ferrucio Furlanetto’s Filippo may not match the interiority of, say, José van Dam, but the voice is that much richer. Eric Halfvarson’s Grand Inquisitor is no match for my memories of Hermann Uhde but his experience in the role shows. Marina Poplavskaya is yet another photogenic performer, touching and simultaneously vocally stimulating. She may have tired at the end of her last act aria when the phrasing got a bit choppy, but the overall performance is major. Anna Smirnova’s big-voiced Eboli is in the Barbieri-Cossotto mold, experiencing difficulties in the Veil Song but delivering a rousing "O don fatale". The mysterious Friar of Alexei Tanovitsky sounded as if he had emerged from the tomb, wobbling all over the place. Hytner’s rationalization of the ending was no improvement over the composer’s version.

Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West may be the least-loved of the composer’s works, a view with which I can sympathize, but GianCarlo Del Monaco’s production for the Met takes the work seriously, not a common undertaking these days. Once again, the camera stays in close, capturing every reaction of the performers. Deborah Voigt in the title role is reasonably convincing, despite a few squally high notes and an exaggeratedly rolled "rrrrrr" that would be the envy of Vera Galupke Borschke. Marcello Giordani is clearly more in his element in verismo works than some of his other assignments at the Met, staying on track throughout. Lucio Gallo’s monolithic Rance is not the most mellifluous but he seems more comfortable than in the DVD from Amsterdam which is one of the sillier takes on the work I have encountered (Act 1 in a Greenwich Village leather bar, with Minnie making her entrance down a Las Vegas staircase, Act 2 in a Barbie-pink trailer wagon – I didn’t get to Act 3). The large supporting cast is individualized, but it is the singers who carry the work, along with conductor Nicola Luisotti who never allows the tension to sag.

The Metropolitan Opera’s productions of  Don Carlo and La Fanciulla del West air on PBS television's Great Performances at the Met (check local listings). (In New York, Thirteen will air the program Thursday, 10 February at 8 p.m. ET.)

Headline image: Roberto Alagna and Simon Keenlyside in Don Carlo.

Joel Kasow is the Operanet editor at Culturekiosque. He has been opera critic for Opera (U.K.) and Opera News (U.S.A) for thirty years and was elected to the International Music Critics Association (UNESCO) in 1996. Long before the existence of "blogs", Mr. Kasow kept an Opera Diary for Culturekiosque. Opera fans can access the archive of his intensely personal, ongoing commentary on the opera world here.   

For collectors of opera and vocal recordings, please click here to access Operanet's archive of CD and DVD reviews

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