Review: Verdi’s Don Carlos goes the distance in lyric opera
The Lyric Opera of Chicago is at the forefront of opera productions on the world stage. It’s on a par with La Scala in Milan or the Met in New York. In fact, the Met has just launched a truncated four-act production of Don Carlos in Italian, which was a later iteration of the work, but still in five acts. The Lyric featured five lush, beautiful acts that lived up to their grand opera status.
Don Carlos is a story of faith in the face of the fanaticism of the Spanish Inquisition. It’s also the story of a mighty king in cahoots with the Roman Catholic Church to cement his place in heaven. It’s also a love story denied for duty with tragic results. There is also complicity, jealousy, double crossing and fantastic songs. Prince Carlos (Joshua Guerrero) waits in a darkened church for his fiancée Elisabeth (Rachel Willis-Sørensen) to give him a medallion with her picture on it. They are soon told that Elisabeth will instead marry Carlos’ father, Phillip II (Dmitry Belosselskiy). Carlos watches his love accept his father’s proposal, which looks more like an order.
Guerrero has a full, smooth tenor that is copper-free. The singers had to compete with the orchestra by drowning out some quieter phrases. That’s a feat considering they don’t carry microphones. Sørensen has a powerful, agile and clear soprano up to the highest notes. The acting is also very good between Guerrero and Sørensen. Their relationship comes across as passionate and tortured without turning into the dreaded maudlin.
Igor Golovatenko is a wonderful, expressive baritone in his operatic debut as Carlos’ best friend, Rodrigue. He brings a beautiful voice and good acting skills on stage. He and Guerrero also have a great chemistry that projects brotherly love and there are no off notes in the difficult counterpoint duets. The best part, in my opinion, belongs to the character of Eboli who is sung with a delicious timbre and perfect phrasing by the mezzo-soprano Clémentine Margaine. She sings a naughty song to the other ladies-in-waiting about a Moor who seduces a queen. The perfection of Margaine’s melisma in Verdi’s music was something I hadn’t heard since Renee Fleming or Kathleen Battle.
Dmitry Beloselskiy is wonderful in the role of the sad king who cries that his wife does not love him. His marvelous bass reaches the lowest depths with ease as he mourns a son who seeks to help the people of Flanders who are being burned as heretics by the Inquisition. Philippe is a man of his time where conquest and bloodshed are rewarded in paradise. Of course, the pope and his emissaries live in opulence and wield great political power, and it is up to them to spill blood. The King’s Grand Inquisitor is played by another great bassist, Soloman Howard. Verdi wrote a great musical passage between the Grand Inquisitor and Philip II for two bass players. We have to mention Lindsey Reynolds who is a freshman member of the Ryan Center, which is an incubator for opera singers here in Chicago. She is not seen on stage but Mrs. Reynolds is heard as the heavenly voice from above calling on burned heretics and star-crossed lovers to peace in eternity. Its soprano is ethereal and even more haunting as a mysterious entity, perhaps an angel.
The Lyric is also renowned for its gorgeous costumes, wigs and stunning sets. I went backstage and touched Dame Joan Sutherland’s velvet dress; it weighed about 50 pounds and the tailoring was exquisite. The costumes for Don Carlos are drawn by Brigitte Rieffenstuel, and they are magnificent. The color theme was a grayscale ranging from varying whites to the deepest black. Robert Jones’ set design was a study in moody dark colors with flashes of deep browns and greens. It’s the perfect set for a dark and gruesome period of history depicted in Don Carlos.
Verdi has been a favorite composer for over two centuries, having penned such masterpieces as Aida, Nabucco, and La Traviata. I’ve seen most of them except his Requiem and Don Carlos. Now that I’ve experienced Don Carlos, it only adds to my love for his music. The Lyric never disappoints with great productions and excellent musicianship. The Lyric Orchestra is conducted by Enrique Mazzola, an exuberant maestro who took the place of the venerable Sir Andrew Davis. The lyric choir is full of amazing singers led by Michael Black. I highly recommend Don Carlos and it is worth seeing at least one opera at Lyric. There is drama, beautiful music and a feast for the eyes.
Don Carlos plays until November 25 at the Lyric Opera at the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive. Tickets start at $50. Please check Lyric’s website for more information about the season and the wonderful work they do throughout the year in educating and enriching lives through music. www.lyricopera.org.
For more information on this and other productions, see www.theatreinchicago.com.
Did you enjoy this article and our coverage of the Chicago art scene? Please consider supporting Third Coast Review’s arts and culture coverage by making a donation by PayPal. Choose the amount that works best for you and know how much we appreciate your support!