Archive for December 12th, 2010

Elisabetta (Marina Poplavskaya) and Don Carlos (Roberto Alagna)

Dear friends and readers,

I thought I’d write a new kind of blog on Verdi’s Don Carlos as performed at the Metropolitan Opera, NYC, and screened on HD screens around the world. I want to tell others how moving I at least found it — the actor-singers were marvelous in the subtleties of their acting and the magnificent singing. I also want to urge others to see it as an unusual 19th century opera for managing to expose the horrors of reactionary regimes while also upholding them. Most of these 19th century opera just uphold profoundly conservative pessimistic values.

But I don’t want to spend the usual hours I do writing these things. One reason I’ve not written on this season’s operas as yet (and we’ve seen two) is that this writing takes such time.

Instead I’ll forward and add to messages I’ve put on Facebook where I’ve found a group of friends who like and go to the HD operas too. One friend provided information about the operas the Admiral might like to know and this way I can tell him.

First here is a site where you can read about the production generally and read the story (filled with ecstatic praise and no political or moral analysis in the way of such popular sites: his comment is this is a blueprint for grand opera. Indeed it was super-luxurious.

From Facebook: It’s the best of these HD operas thus far this year. For my taste it is “too busy” an opera: so that the time for the moving arias and 2-3 people scenes seem crowded out — almost. Not quite. I loved the Elisabetta (her last arias), Don Carlos and Philip. I was so moved by Philip’s aria music. loved the aria by Philip at the opening of the third segment. I ignored the imputed sentiments (where where unbelievable – he loves Elisabetta (!) and identified intensely with his grief over the irretrievability of life’s losses. Also Elisabetta’s final aria where she too grieves this way

Ferruccio Furlanetto just had the role of Philip perfect: a man gorged on absolute power who exercises it remorsely and thinks well of himself — murderous cruel blind; there were many as bad people on stage were: clerics, soldiers, people-burners, but he had an incisiveness in his deadly nastiness and a refusal to listen to anyone else that was scary. Like a spider — shots of him with his cane make him look spider-like (Scott’s Quentin Durward presents a medieval French king as a “spider”).

He’d be nothing without his hired compliant henchman.

Jim has a good saying when people say someone in power is doing something bad because of bad advisors (as when Obama is said to be following Rahm): the Cossacks obey the Czar.

At one point in the opera, Don Carlos and his friend, Roderigo attempt to rebel. The Pope thunders how the king is a God and all kneel down. It brought home how important it was to cut off the king’s head in the English civil and French revolutionary wars, quite apart from these people’s continual machinations with others to get back in power and savagely punish those who dared to rebel.

Simon Keelyside as Roderigo was a complex driven character: beloved friend of Don Carlos who wants to pressure Don Carlos into fighting for religious and political freedom for Flanders (rousing famous duet), taken up by the king as a sincere man. Somehow this role did not give Keehlyside room for his most effective acting, which is a lot less macho and manipulative than this role demanded:

I felt distressed by that scene before the cathedral. I know it was so stylized and like much of the production glamorously overproduced to some extent — though I acknowledge the hideousness of the Carlo monument was appropriate as this group of people in power are hideously cruel — even Elisabetta has her autocratic moments when she flat-out dismisses Eboli.

Eboli (Marina Smirnova)

Nonetheless, in that cathedral scene the people about to be burnt to death, the gestures they made, the way they faced the audience made me cover my eyes so I would not see their humiliation. I am so alive to the realities of torture in our world nowadays and think about the viciousness of all these regimes and wars to stop any social progress whatsoever over the last 30 years

We do see how powerless women as such are — I was struck by the paradigm of Elisabetta’s forced marriage: as in all these 19th century renderings we never see the sex that happened on the nights the man first takes the women. Isabelle de Montolieu’s Caroline de Lichtfield and George Sand’s Valentine are the two exceptions and there the woman refuses the sexual encounter successfully: Winston Graham is really outstanding for showing the woman raped nightly and abused because the husband knows she has been forced. Here we have the woman accepting the ancient man and the frissons of the ex-lover, Don Carlos, becoming her son are basically ignored. As I said, Elisabetta herself preys on her underling, Eboli.

The Admiral had told me about the composite nature of what we had seen. Act 1 is a very early Verdi in French trans into Italian. Apparently a number of Verdi’s operas are in French and grand operas with ballets. Acts 2-5 are later Verdi: in Italian, the third from last opera Verdi wrote. I knew the text was basically Schiller’s — last week coincidentally we saw a modern adaptation of Schiller’s Maria Stuart by the WSC. Also relevant politics:

Maria Stuart: a play about seething hypocrisies

whose dramaturgy Izzy described,

a companion to their Richard III: a parable about ruthlessly ambitious politicians

My friend on Facebook, added some more solid information about the opera’s sources and analogies:

“I was very moved by the big scene in front of the cathedral–the flux of politics and religions, celebration and terror, father and son, “brothers,” swords and flames. The production–but also the words and music–suggested that human sacrifice was necessary to preserve Philip’s empire. The whole thing was written in French first. Lots of scenes had to be dumped in the early productions in order to work in a ballet–a sine qua non for the Paris Opera–and still allow opera-goers to catch the last trains home. In the Don Pasquale intermission interviews Alagna and Keenleyside were talking about the difference between the two versions, saying the Italian version is more “herroic.” Apparently the first version of the story (aside from the events themselves) was a 1670s French historical novel by Cesar Vichard, Abbe de Saint-Real. I found it on Googlebooks–the first 30 pages or so are entertaining, dissecting all the various kinds of love the principals feel for each other. All the 19th c. versions are based on Schiller, though. There is also a Conrad Veidt silent film called Carlos and Elizabeth, with amazing sets, especially for the Office of the Inquisition, a sort of spherical hellish bureaucracy. Also the Throne Room is a Met-stage-sized room with a wall that slides open to reveal the cathedral with its bishops and such ready to excommunicate if anybody missteps.”

Complaint about the movie-house we have been seeing these operas in, the Hoffman theater in Alexander, an AMC/Loews theater: the management has begun to have “pre-shows” before the opera. Very loud, grating (like these others so you can’t ignore them), aggressive. These advertise other HD and TV shows. I fled while it was on. I hate these. In regular movie-going beyond super-loud, the ads are obnoxious in content, the trailers then pick out the most moronic parts of the movie to display.

Movie-houses can’t bear that an audience should sit there and not be bombarded every moment by some form of ad.

Then they did not turn up the lights when it was time to leave. People in the audience began rudely to shout “lights.” But they would not turn them up. I suppose they have decided why should they treat the people watching these HD opera any less ruthlessly than they do their usual customers. One elderly lady behind us would not have been able to walk out without lights without hurting herself. If she did, I would hope she’d sue. I noticed long lines at their “guest service” desk.

They have horrible food — intensely sugared and/or fried; carbonated chemically flavored liquids in tin cans. People who come to the opera are a different group from the usual audiences there: they bring books for the intermissions and many bring their own food (sandwiches, thermos) — though now there are signs forbidding this so less do. I bring a yoghurt in my handbag. But there is no coffee only these chemical drinks and long lines to get anything (unhiring practiced there).


P. S. See comments for earlier new productions this year: Das Rheingold and Boris Godunov.

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