Opera Review: Verdi’s ‘Don Carlo’ by Maryland Lyric Opera
Verdi’s “Don Carlo” was recently performed at the Strathmore Music Center by the Maryland Lyric Opera. Although largely based on the historical play by Friedrich Schiller, the production could have been a little further away from the original drama, as it was a concert version without sets and performers in tuxedos and dresses instead of suits. historical. Yet in Maryland Lyric Opera’s performance, the drama survived intact and was even, in some ways, enhanced by stunning performances and highly stylized colored lighting.
…held all the suspense and drama of a fully staged performance…a memorable operatic experience.
The opera and the play it was based on are set in 16th century Spain under the harsh reign of King Philip II. Don Carlo, Philip’s son, is everything his father is not – he is passionate, warmly engaged with humanity and sympathetic to freedom. He is also in love with the noble Elisabetta. King Philip II, his father, marries Elisabetta in part to fulfill the terms of a peace accord, leaving Carlo heartbroken. Quoting from Schiller’s original play: “You were mine,” Carlo said to his former love and now mother-in-law, “by heaven and nature I was chosen as my bride, but Philip, cruel Philip, stole you from me!” Carlo focuses his energies on helping his friend Rodrigo fight political and religious oppression, bringing Carlo into a new conflict with his father.
The strength of this production is that even as a concert opera, a dramatic orchestral performance and expressive hand gestures and facial expression illustrated the drama of the play. Although there are no sets, props, such as a sword and a treasure chest containing Don Carlo’s portrait, helped bring the story to life. Touches such as a sparkling tiara for Elisabetta, Philip’s queen, suggested the position of the figures. The space was used as in a play, with the king appearing on the balcony in one of the tiers above the stage to suggest the strict hierarchy of the Spanish court. The drama heightened further as Rodrigo paced between Queen Elisabetta and Princess Eboli.
A strong, passionate and physically close stage presence of Arturo Chacón-Cruz as Don Carlo and Mark Delevan as Rodrigo showed the brotherly relationship between the two friends as they sang loudly “goodness will unite us ” in their famous duet. The magic of opera to tell a story through music was witnessed when this melody reappears as a Leitmotif throughout the opera in scenes with Don Carlo and Rodrigo, making “Don Carlo” an excellent choice for the “concert opera” approach. Soprano Elaine Alvarez gave Elisabetta a majestic presence as she sang with power and fury, but also effectively vocalized a more poignant mood in Elisabetta’s beautiful aria “Non pianger, mia compagna”. Conductor Louis Salemno moved the audience with his brilliant direction. He highlighted the orchestral sound effects of church bells and harp strings, used at crucial moments to reflect the divine and the ethereal.
A visual screen above the performance contained an English translation of the Italian opera (translated from a French libretto). One could “read” the story in this way, adding to the opera’s connection to the original drama. On screen, an image of Jesus displayed crucifixion marks on his hands. Likewise, an image of a clock without hands and a skull under the clock symbolized the passage of time, foreshadowing death in Act IV.
The colors on screen matched the stage lighting in the performance, which ranged from greens to blues to reds, depending on the mood at the time. Such adaptive lighting (designed wonderfully by Stuart Duke) accentuated the themes of the opera and added vibrancy and meaning to the story and characters. Blue stage lights were used to reflect divinity and creation as the choir sang of what “may descend…from the sky.” At other times, the colors green were used to symbolize the king’s greed (and greed for power). The color of the clothes also reflected the theme and mood as Princess Eboli’s blue dress (a part performed and sung superbly by Catherine Martin) expressed regret and grief.
This opera-concert production of Verdi’s “Don Carlo”, carrying its powerful story which even for the powerful awaits (in the words of the libretto) “but mute dust”, contained all the suspense and drama of a fully staged performance. . Wonderful singing, a magnificent orchestra, glorious unison choral voices, symbolic lighting and occasional atmospheric props and screen projections all helped make this production of the Maryland Lyric Opera a memorable operatic experience. .
Duration: About 3h20, including an intermission.
“Don Carlo” was performed May 13-15, 2022 at Strathmore Music Center, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda, MD, 20852, presented by Maryland Lyric Opera. For more information on upcoming productions, please visit the Maryland Lyric Opera website here.