Cher Public

Four faints in five acts

Don Carlo 1That little place just two hours from the city is on the list of things I shall never understand, like the plot of Parsifal. So there I was rushing back from the realm of very large bugs and a terrifying lack of restaurants, waiting to see if I would make it back and across the bay in time for a one o’clock curtain. For better or worse, I did. 

Don Carlo always brings out the version fetishists, so I suspect I should come out swinging and announce that the San Francisco Opera is presenting the 1866 five-act Modena Don Carlo, no “s”, with negligible cuts, before mentioning that the current production, for all it is well staffed, is something of a slog. Me, I have always loved the hacked-to-bits opera recordings from La Scala in the 50s and can say (right before you stop reading in outrage) that four acts would still be a perfectly splendid amount of Don Carlo, even with these singers.

Michael Fabiano is really the headliner here, in that (if one’s hunch is correct), he won’t be singing here much more. He’s not on the roster next season and the Met seems to be onto him. If I’m right, it’s a shame to have him go out on this particular note: it’s not that his singing is diminished in any way; it is rather that Don Carlo is the least interesting role in Don Carlo, musically and dramatically. His work here is impeccable, but it’s a lacklustre showcase for his prodigious talent. Here and there were pleasures and places to show off, as in the Corellian B natural Fabiano hurled at Daddy Dearest in the auto-da-fe, but the thrill of last season’s Boheme wasn’t to be had.

Don CarloThe one truly electric moment, which rippled through the crowd before the music ended and erupted as a frenzied ovation, was the duet with Posa, played here a bit on the “you look like you could use a massage” side and rapturously sung by both Fabiano and Mariusz Kwiecien, who elsewhere was more variable. I still think warmly of Kwiecien’s Guiglielmo at the Met a decade ago, but I don’t think he’s done his voice a lot of favors by stepping up in class, though it’s an understandable career progression. There’s a certain unprepossessing bark there now, though it subsides in lyrical moments like “Per me giunto,” which was indeed lovely.

Ana Maria Martinez, announced months ago in substitution for the lately elusive Krasimira Stoyanova, made of Elisabetta a fine-grained portrait. Her floated acuti are something of a marvel not only on account of their beauty or their security, but because she doesn’t jerk the musical line around with them, so they never sound like a party trick. “Non pianger” can go for nothing; here it was poignant and detailed. The fifth act aria lacked only a little weight to rival the interpretations we all return to. This is a role debut for the soprano, as it is for Fabiano, and it bodes well not only for further essays, but for her promise in Verdi more generally.

Martinez, it should be said, was not aided by Maestro Luisotti at this particular matinee. His was not the most singer-friendly reading nor, I’m going to say, the most audience-friendly. Some combination of his gravitation toward the ponderous side of the score, Emilio Sagi’s relentlessly dreary production, and the unusually high temperature in the house made it seem that someone had discovered the nine-act version of Don Carlo. (Me, I’d still be open to the two-act edition.)

Don Carlo 2Nadia Krasteva gave the most flamboyant performance of the day as Eboli, nimble and alluring in the veil song and brassy in ensembles. Her 11 o’clock number lacked a little in pathos but was a solid, impressive sing with a little danger to it. Rene Pape, a veteran Philip II, has in the past sung the role with formidable solidity; in this account, he included more vocal reflections of the king’s doubt and despair, to great effect, and in great contrast with the solid black bass of Andrea Silvestrelli, a Grand Inquisitor so steadfastly malevolent you wanted to send him on a blind date with Suor Angelica’s aunt.

Company administration should be commended for a much-appreciated (if not universally observed) moment of silence before the production for the victims of Sunday’s massacre in Orlando. On such days, entertainment can feel frivolous, and it was a fine moment to remember that art is our only true respite from such things.

Photos ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

  • Camille

    “you wanted to send him on a blind date with Suor Angelica’s aunt.”!!! Haha!

    Thanks, I knew you’d come through. And yes, Art is our only true respite.

  • grimoaldo

    Thank you for the review.
    What is “That little place…(with) very large bugs and a terrifying lack of restaurants”?
    “Michael Fabiano is really the headliner here, in that (if one’s hunch is correct), he won’t be singing here much more”
    That would be a shame,yes it is really a pity that SF Opera does not have him on the schedule for their next season but the symphony does --
    September 22, 23, 24
    Viva Verdi: Italian Masterworks
    Verdi, who holds one of the most stunning, overarching operatic legacies of all time, is central to this program which features the show-stopping tenor Michael Fabiano with “blazing trumpet-like high notes” (Opera Britannica) as well as Grammy Award-winning vocal ensemble The Swingle Singers and SF Symphony Principal Oboe Eugene Izotov.
    Michael Tilson Thomas

    Michael Fabiano

    Oboe Concerto in C minor

    Sinfonia for Eight Solo Voices and Orchestra

    Selection of Italian Arias

    Te Deum

    Personally, I would much rather hear and see Fabiano as Carlo(s) than as Rodolfo, I would certainly not be making a special trip to SF (or anywhere else) to see a performance of La Boheme, no matter who was in it.

    Other review of the SF show
    ” tenor Michael Fabiano made a strong debut in the title role…. Fabiano’s sweet, supple voice was even throughout his range, and he displayed palpable chemistry with Elizabeth, as well as with his friend Rodrigo, the Marquis of Posa.”
    “If opera lovers are looking for a good reason to see and hear the San Francisco Opera’s new production of “Don Carlo,” they need look no further than tenor Michael Fabiano. Singing the title role of Verdi’s epic melodrama for the first time in his career, Fabiano is nothing short of magnificent…Fabiano’s muscular, richly colored tenor is a marvelously flexible instrument; making his role debut as Carlo, he expressed the character’s anguish and intentions in forceful terms. He sang with firm tone in his scenes with his close friend and ally, Rodrigo, the Marquis of Posa. Yet Fabiano was just as affecting in his love scenes; his tender, beseeching vocalism in Act II, when he declares his devotion to Elisabetta, was ardent and eloquently phrased.”
    Michael Fabiano and Mariusz Kwiecien hadn’t even finished singing their Act 2 duet when the applause began, rolling into the War Memorial Opera House like some kind of weighty sonic fog. It built steadily, unstoppably, all through the orchestral postlude, and when the last note had sounded, it seemed to burst past any restraints into an eruption of sheer unbridled exuberance.
    That was the most pronounced ovation during the vocally triumphant opening performance Sunday, June 12, of Verdi’s “Don Carlo” at the San Francisco Opera — indeed, the most extravagantly physical show of delight I’ve heard from an opera audience in years — but it wasn’t the only one….Fabiano, undertaking the demanding title role for the first time, proved perfectly suited to the task, bringing a combination of heroic heft and ringing tenor clarity to the assignment”
    ” Fabiano commanded a wide dynamic range, skillfully deployed to convey the complexity of the forces shaping his character”

  • Patrick Mack

    My Dear Mr. Freed,
    You cover yourself in glory in the sport of opera criticism.
    The Suor Angelica bon mot for sure but,”the duet with Posa, played here a bit on the “you look like you could use a massage” side”, literally made me laugh, out loud, on the bus.
    I prefer Carlos en Francaise but fear I shall never see it live.
    Also a huge fan of Martinez here and hope her time of true recognition is upon us.
    Magnificent review.

  • Krunoslav

    “The fifth act aria lacked only a little weight to rival the interpretations we all return to.”

    Here’s some weight from a Glyndebourne-tested artist!

  • Camille

    And what the hell is Eboli doing with that poignard in her hot little hand? Has she gotten confused, still thinking to be playing Lady Macbeth, as so many of them double up in these two parts?

    If anyone is interested and has the availability, serendipitously, Sirius is currently playing a 1989 Don Carlo with Shicoff and M. Price sounding excellently, and all the backup and the backup band as well. It started at 9:00 a.m., but you can go back in the Wayback Machine if you catch it before noon.

  • Camille

    Sorry, upon looking closer, that would appear to be an épée, and not a poignard.

    No matter, what is she doing pulling it on Carlo, hasn’t he got enough problems already? And where is her mantilla?

    • Krunoslav

      If you were Eboli, you’d keep your eye out for potential scuffles.

      • JohninSeattle

        If you were Eboli, you might already have one eye out.

        I’ll show myself out now. Here comes MODERATION! LOL!

        • Krunoslav

          Yes, the point of my ‘joke’…

      • Camille

        MAIS — as *Camille* there is already more than my bleedin’ lungs can handle in keeping an eye out for Baron Douphol, not to mention that backstabbing guttersnipe Flora Bervoix.

        Sad to disappoint, but not that type at all, dearie. And if I sported an eye-patch I’d be even more prone to typographOrrori.

    • derschatzgabber

      The photograph is from the trio in Act III, scene one. In the libretto, Posa attempts to silence Eboli by stabbing her and Don Carlo intervenes to save her. In this production, as Posa raises his sword to strike Eboli, she pulls Don Carlo’s sword from its hilt and defends herself.

  • I’ll argue for five acts because the Fontainebleau scene includes music whose reappearance in Act V makes “Tu che le vanita” unbearably poignant. Some of that effect would be lost without Act I.

    Yeah, Fabiano isn’t on the SFO roster next year, but who is? The biggest names are Lawrence Brownlee and Lianna Haroutounian. The REALLY big stars are nowhere to be seen. So I wouldn’t draw too many conclusions from his absence this year.

    On the other hand, Pape wasn’t seen between 2001 and now, so who knows?

    • LT

      San Francisco is not an A league house so the lack of big stars isn’t that surprising. It also doesn’t help that it’s so far away from the operatic world geographically speaking. The only way they can mitigate this is by higher fees but I doubt they can afford it.

      Stoyanova, by the way, cancelled so that she can make her debut in La Scala.

    • San Francisco will have NADJA MICHAEL, a Name To Be Reckoned With.

      • Camille

        I’m still in a recovery group from her Sally-May, crochet… could you bring her presence up again? It’ll set me be back at least two years in therapy.

        JesssssssuZZZZZ!!!!!!!!!! Half-tone flat all the way through the end and the fools all raised up and HUZZAHED!!! I just ran out of the War Memorial and that was the beginning of the end of me and The City on the Hills in the Fog. UGH! UGH! UGH!

        • The Imp of the Perverse is my close personal friend.

          Just be glad she’s not coming to an opera house near you. Though I live some miles from War Memorial, I expect to smell her from here.

          • WindyCityOperaman

            Her opening night Lady Macbeth was so off-center vocally I couldn’t believe what my ears were hearing. None of the under 40-age “I’m here to be seen” crowd cared . . . at least she was thin! And the long-winded bore newspaper music critic here surmised “she was flat . . . so what?”

            • armerjacquino

              None of the under 40-age “I’m here to be seen” crowd cared . . . at least she was thin!

              Asked them, did you? Asked them their ages, why they were there, and what they thought of her weight?

              Personally, when I turned 40 3 years ago I was delighted that I suddenly stopped being a trendy, pretentious philistine and was, overnight, able to appreciate music properly.


              I suggest you read leosweill’s comment in the Loft Opera thread really, really carefully.

            • leosweill

              people under 40 actually have no ears and only eyes. It’s a little-known scientific fact!

              we agree on nadja michael. I would pay good money to stay away from her schreierei. Skipped Bluebeard’s Castle -- a favorite -- to avoid her.

            • Camille

              I was under 40 once and could tell bad singing from good, and correct pitches from in incorrect. Doesn’t have much to do with age. And lots of people who LOOK like they are hnder 40, are NOT, and just effecting a youthful aspect. At this point in time, my efforts are to look like I’m under 100, so no longer eorry about the youth effect as that boat has floated.

              She ruined my Bluebird’s Castle, too. I had it plotted to be here for the one performance with her alternate, Michaela Martens, and then did not make it in time. Curses.

              She was once a pretty good mezzo-soprano. And she does have a voice. The transformation into soprano just really did not go well, at ALL. Sorry.

          • Camille

            I know dat, crochester.
            Just razzin’ you and havin’ fun, such as I’m still able to.

            I wonder how ol’ Nadja would sound sing “The Book of the Hanging Gardens”?
            That’d be a royal ride.

  • JohninSeattle

    “Don Carlo is the least interesting role in Don Carlo, musically and dramatically. His work here is impeccable, but it’s a lacklustre showcase for his prodigious talent. Here and there were pleasures and places to show off, as in the Corellian B natural Fabiano hurled at Daddy Dearest in the auto-da-fe, but the thrill of last season’s Boheme wasn’t to be had.”

    We will forever, respectfully, disagree.

    It can’t be a surprise after all these years that the character is loaded with duets and trios. During those non-solo moments, he’s interacting with other characters. It’s the nature of those interactions that provide the build of the character and the arc of the storytelling.

    Yep, if you’re looking for Rudolfo or the Duke of Mantua, you will not find that tenor role here. For that fact alone, some of us are grateful. If DC were merely about a tenor on a platform blasting high notes and happy tunes, it wouldn’t be the black-hearted, brooding world of the piece we’ve come to know and treasure. In fact, those tenor-on-a-wheeled-platrform moments wouldn’t work at all. Which is why they are not present, one suspects. Maestro Verdi isn’t without intention.

    The writing -- to my mind -- is about great drama. Not abstract meditations on power or the church. But fire burning of heretics conflict. Active suppression of ideology and classes of people.

    I suppose you could think of Eboli’s final aria as a florid show-stopper for an accomplished singer. Or you could view it through the lens of a corpulent world where we just destroy those who don’t support the stated goals of the religious and political leaders. You pick. I’m good with your choice on the matter. It’s pretty clear the only safe harbor in this world is to crawl into a sepulcher and ride out the storm.

    It sounds like a first rate cast. And if Mr. Fabiano is on a career trajectory that takes him on to greater things, how very fortunate for him. I’ll be looking forward to his performance on Saturday in a dramatically challenging role that affords the tenor something more than “stand and melt hearts”.

    Cheers to you! J.

    • That’s a great summation of the role. Emilio Sagi, the director, does absolutely nothing with the character arc you describe, alas. I’d like to see someone with real chops direct this opera some day.

    • Cocky Kurwenal

      I can’t think of a single opera that is ‘merely about a tenor on a platform blasting high notes and happy tunes’ -- I think you’re presenting a false dichotomy here.

      I also think Eboli’s O Don Fatale can be both a show-stopper and whatever it was you said about lenses and a corpulent world etc.

      • Krunoslav

        “I can’t think of a single opera that is ‘merely about a tenor on a platform blasting high notes and happy tunes’ ”

        What about DEATH IN VENICE?

        • Cocky Kurwenal

          Haven’t seen it -- sounds like a fun one!

          • Krunoslav

            There’s also PALESTRINA.

      • armerjacquino

        What it isn’t, in any sense of the word, was ‘florid’.

    • DonCarloFanatic

      “the black-hearted, brooding world”


      “so steadfastly malevolent you wanted to send him on a blind date with Suor Angelica’s aunt”

      OMG, yes. The Grand Inquisitor scared me silly the first time I saw this opera and malevolent is just right for that role.

      I’m all in for the nine-act version.

      Re the French version, I saw the concert Don Carlos at Caramoor and maybe it was the heat stroke but I don’t think you’re missing much seeing the Italian version instead.

      • Cocky Kurwenal

        Maybe it’s one of those things where you like it best the way you heard it first, but my first experience of Don Carlo(s) was seeing the Luc Bondy/ROH production on tour in Edinburgh with a very impressive cast. I got hold of the recording and an obsession ensued. I also got the Giulini at the same time so have got to know the work in both languages sort of simultaneously, but I do think the setting of the French is more sensitive and once you know it I think you can hear, in the Italian version, certain corners which are slightly (only slightly) unsatisfactory and have been made to ‘fit’, and don’t necessarily communicate quite the same nuance. These days I’d always prefer to hear it in French but I do enjoy it in Italian if that’s what’s on offer.

        • grimoaldo

          Me too. Five acts in French with the ballet would be my preference but as long as there is a good cast and conductor Italian, French, 4 acts, 5 acts, ballet, no ballet, doesn’t really bother me as I love the opera in all versions, languages or lengths.

    • RosinaLeckermaul

      D.C. is my favorite Verdi opera and I don’t find a dull moment in the 5 Act version. I agree that the title character is anything but dull. With his variety of moods and his interactions with all the major characters, he’s a challenge for a good singing actor. And his music is sublime.

  • As usual, Greg, you easy wit and keen observations make for great reading. Thank you.

    I agree somewhat with you characterization of the title role. It is not as grateful as the other four principal roles; the stage-time to aria ratio is terrible. It’s particularly galling to have one’s prison scene (usually a chance to show off) completely stolen by the baritone who gets to sing not one, but two arias.

    So yes, it’s not as showy a role, however, there is lots of opportunity to shine. I’ve taken lots of pleasure in hearing Corelli, Domingo, Bjoerling, Carreras and Tucker sing the part. The duets alone are very rewarding, I think. I’ve been keeping an eye out for this production because I imagined that it would be a great showcase for Fabiano’s gifts.

    Oh, and I’m one of those who can’t get enough of the opera, including the Fontainebleau act. Bring on the nine-act version!

    • Cocky Kurwenal

      Agreed Kashania -- when it comes to Don Carlo(s), I think more is more. I’m all for 5 acts, un-cut, with extra bits from other versions thrown in for good measure.

    • Greg.Freed

      My something-like-indifference to Don Carlo one of those things that makes me suspect I am an unserious person.

      • almavivante

        Don’t be so tough on yourself. Although full of stupendous music, the characters in Don Carlo(s) are almost all unlikable. The king is a monster (he burns people to death and fully deserves it that “she never loved me”), the title character is callow and mostly a bore, the Grand Inquisitor is a crocodile, Posa is duplicitous, Eboli comes off as a virago, and only Elisabetta is at all innocent. I often explain to people who prefer D.C. over Aida, and don’t understand why D.C. (in any version) leaves me cold while I never tire of Aida, is that in D.C. the politics is foregrounded over the romance; in Aida the romance takes precedence over the political conflict, which is just how I like it.

        And if you have a guilty hankering after “the two-act Don Carlo,” consider this. The best Tristan I ever heard was the New York Phil’s performance some years back of all the “good bits,” featuring Deborah Voigt. Clocking in a two and a quarter hours, it suited me down to the ground. Heresy, I know, but I’m a Handelian/Mozartian/bel cantist, and will never be a Wagnerian. I happily leave those pleasures for others to relish.

      • JohninSeattle

        Hardly the case. I think there are things we like and things we don’t care for much. I suppose if we each weren’t blessed with unique and specific tastes, the world would have three colors and four options for dinner.

        Here’s to the myriad of thoughtful opinion and taste!

        Btw, wild horses can’t get my sorry ass dragged to a BIG IDEAS Waaaaaaaaghner production. I don’t think it means I’m without regard for his actual accomplishments and merits, it just means it’s not my cuppa. When Seattle does the Ring Cycle it’s a mere eight blocks from my home. I feel no desire to partake. And it’s literally walking distance. Am I a vulgarian for not imbiding? Perhaps. Or maybe that seat is best reserved for someone who will enjoy far more than I ever will.

        In Seattle it’s always Norn-Thirty. So I fly, fly away! (And when we do Verdi -- say a Nabucco -- the productions are so dreadful that it’s polite to never speak of it again.)

  • parpignol

    Fabiano: great vocal performance, but does he really have chemistry with other performers, or is it just between him and the audience? if he were a ballet dancer I suspect he would not get good marks for partnering. . . yes, lots of applause for the Rodrigo duet, but Kwiecien and Kaufmann in London projected a lot more chemistry and connection--
    likewise with Martinez at Fontainebleau; better in the last act duet when she had become more of a presence. . .
    a Don Carlo who doesn’t connect: well, it could fit the character. . .

    • Camille

      That is quite a keen observation, parpignol, and I find you comments interesting. I have been wondering about the cue-ball look, myself. It sort of works for Carlo as Spanish Empire Weirdo, I guess.

      He seemed to relate to his Lucia here well enough when he sang it, and he dealt with The Ange rather skillfully, I felt, in the Bohème, not the easiest task. Soon, maybe he was just playing Carlo as crazy longer guy.

      Salvatore Licitra (remember him) did a good job of running amok when I saw him sing it in Los Angeles about ten years ago. Carlo can be a bit of a cypher to portray, so, I just dunno.

      • Camille

        scheiße! it should be: “Sooooo, maybe he was just playing Carlo as crazy, loNER guy.”

        I mean, his detachment from the actual status quo helps him to live in his delusional state that he’s getting back with Elisabetta and that he is going to Salvar la Fiandra, when, in the end, Grampa Simpson comes and hauls him away.

        Wonder what Schiller does at the end. Once I had the opportunity to attend the play but it was in a language I understood five words of, so didn’t go, but still sorry not to have.

        • Camille

          And one more thing about Carlo and the difficulty of portraying the role--he just doesn’t have a knock the ball out of the park aria/scena to make an impression with and what he does have comes immediately at the beginning, when barely warmed up and which sounds way, way better in the French version.

          Where Carlo can and does show his stuff are in his duets with Elisabetta (the one with Rodrigo is such sure-fire cannon that it is beside the point), as he shows sides of himself and major gradations in his behavior in the three duets, really three different guys. I just love those duets, especially the second one, in which Verdi does something so beautiful and different in his depiction of Carlo’s cracking up, at the point where he swoons and Elisabetta has to pick him up “Giusto ciel” part. And the last one is out of this world.

          That’s all. I just love this music. Verdi outdid himself.

          • JohninSeattle

            I agree. Wholeheartedly, cara Camille. Those duets are are wonderful music and character building.

            I do think his Hamlet-like melancholia (for lack a something more apt) has profoundly different layers to it. His struggles and unhappiness changes in complexity over the course of the opera. (Daddy wants me dead is kind of a proverbial last straw.)

            Just saw a review for the Jenufa. Another board member sent it on. I’m thrilled we are seeing both on our little sojourn. Nothing says “fun in the sun” like Jenufa as a chaser to the always light-hearted Don Carlo!

        • Lohenfal


          Schiller has the King hand over Carlos to the Inquisition. There is no Monk to spirit Carlos away. The King’s final line is celebrated:

          Kardinal, ich habe das Meinige getan. Tun Sie das Ihre.

          The Monk we know from the opera is an invention of the librettists. Even Verdi questioned whether or not he should exist as a means of ending the opera.

          • sfmike

            Thanks for that info. I’ve been wondering about the Schiller ending for years. By the way, the cast was uniformly great, the staging not so much, but if you’re a “Don Carlo(s)” fan like myself, this was a great performance.

            • Lohenfal

              You’re welcome, sfmike. I won’t be able to see it, but it will be broadcast in NYC on Oct. 15. I usually listen to DC no matter who’s in the cast, and this particular cast recommends itself.

          • Camille

            Why thank you, Lohenfal, how accommodating and thoughtful. Somehow or another, I am very aware of that line, and wonder if it is used in other contexts as well, you know, “famous quote” extraction.

            Yes, Verdi has a couple workings of the ending. When I am up and about I’ll go look for the music and let that cat out of the bag. I find the Friar (‘Moine’ is the word in the text) very unsatisfactory and abrupt, hard to work out on the stage, and unbelievable.

    • I’ve only seen Fabiano in one leading role, Rodolfo. In that case, he had great chemistry with his Mimi, Joyce El-Khoury. But the two of them go way back and have a special bond. They had me in tears, which I didn’t think was still possible after so many Bohemes. Still, I don’t think it’s necessarily indicative of his chemistry with other cast mates.

  • operajunky

    I think Fabiano’s lack of engagements is the result of his behavior rather than his talent. And if you read his profile in Opera News, you see what I’m talking about. He comes across as a narcissistic little queen. “Oh look at how serious and important I am.”

    • fletcher

      This is so gossipy that I should probably be embarrassed, but if Kwiecien gets ill Fabiano will be singing the Act II duet with his ex-boyfriend, which could be fun to watch.

      • LT

        What’s his name?

    • Cocky Kurwenal

      Fabiano does not want for engagements. He is one of the most in demand tenors in the world.

    • Camille

      Not at all. I think he sounds as if he is a tenor with a brain, and that’s what people don’t like. Thanks for pointing that article out as I was unaware of it.

      More power to him. The kid stays in the picture for Camille.

  • samson got a buzzcut

    I rather like how Fabiano was allowed to sport his own shaved head for these performances rather than being wigged. Somehow it works for Carlo and certainly looks great on Fabiano!

  • parpignol

    though the posters all over San Francisco show him wearing a long dark wig. . .

    • derschatzgabber

      I think those posters are using a photograph of Fabiano in the Luisa Miller production from last fall. A much better look for him IMHO.

  • Don_Dano

    I am looking forward to visiting San Francisco and hearing all three of their summer operas.

    Any anyone who needs to hear Michael Fabiano next fall can visit Houston where he will sing Faust opposite Ana Maria Martinez and Luca Pisaroni whom I don’t believe I have heard in person before.

  • Hauk-Sendorf

    Thank you! Out of almost a dozen reviews that I’ve read, you’re the only one so far to call out Luisotti’s turgid conducting, which pretty much sabotaged the performance for me -- I’ve never left a production of Don Carlo completely dry-eyed before. The painfully slow tempo was especially taxing for Fabiano and Kwiecien in the friendship duet, which nearly came off the rails towards the end. It was hard to resist the urge to shout “get on with it!”

    • Camille

      Turgid conducting? I wonder if it were anywhere as s-l-o-w m0 as Maestro Maazel’s unbelievably hallucination inducting tempi for that next to last Don Carlo. That was a real trip, man.

      Shame, because a few years before his Elektra, if the loudest I’d yet heard, was all together and there in spades.

      Anyway, Luisotti, whom I’ve only conduct Fanciulla is okay but fails to impress me as anything special and aren’t you getting a new conductor soon as he’s leaving??

      • derschatzgabber

        Nowhere near as slow as the MET performance under Maazel. So far I have only seen the final dress rehearsal, so I don’t know how the opening matinee may have differed. The first half of Act 1 and the Act 2 scene 1 duet felt very slow. I thought that things improved after those two passages.

  • SF Guy

    Just back from the Wednesday eve Don Carlo--positive impression overall. If you love this opera (as I do), there’s more than enough to keep reminding you why it’s so fabulous; if you don’t, you’re unlikely to be converted. Ana Maria Martinez is a wonderful Elisabetta, and the entire cast is strong. As to be expected, Fabiano’s Carlo is a work in progress and would have benefited from good direction, but Sagi has left everyone pretty much to their own devices.

    The low point comes in the Eboli-Posa swordplay; minus his sword, there’s nothing for Carlo to do, so he just wanders off, as if saying “Okay guys, work it out on your own,” eventually reclaiming his sword with the peeved expression of a put-upon schoolmaster who’s been unable to restrain a pair of rowdy schoolboys. Quite a few bad laughs, understandably. Actually, the only well-directed version I’ve seen at SFO remains the 1986 John Cox production (Shicoff/Lorengar/Lloyd/Titus/Toczyska), the first time it was done here in French, and with the Fontainebleau scene.

    BTW, I wouldn’t call tonight’s performance complete (minus the ballet) by any means; I spotted a significant cut in the Act 2 Carlo-Elisabetta duet--from about 5:05 to 6:25 here:

    Since I consider the first 30 seconds of the cut the most poignantly beautiful passage in the entire opera--for just a moment, the clouds seem to part, the sun comes out and Carlo is at peace, then just as quickly reality sets in and he’s back in darkness--I’m not exactly pleased.

    Also BTW, the SFO Highlights clip-fest is now up, with footage I presume is from the dress rehearsal. Fortunately, I found the singers more connected and involved tonight than they sometimes appear here:

  • Hauk-Sendorf

    But what was up tonight with Kwiecien taking an awkward solo curtain call after the end of Act 4 and then not showing up for the final bows? That didn’t happen at the opening performance on Sunday. Did he have a hot date who couldn’t wait for him until the last scene was done?

    • SF Guy

      Hopefully, yes.

      Actually, I remember when that sort of thing was commonplace; my first Lucia took her bows immediately after the Mad Scene and was nowhere to be seen thereafter. If the singer has enough clout, it still sometimes happens once opening night (or in this case, afternoon) has passed.

      • chicagoing

        A woman in an adjacent seat at tonight’s Don Carlo asked me how the house announced substitute performers. It seems she had heard that Mariusz Kwiecien had some sort of vocal issues following Wednesday night’s performance and wondered if he would be going on. I confessed I had never attended the SFO before, cursed Fletcher for even mentioning the possibility he might miss, and then enjoyed a marvelous night at the opera with all of the principals intact and taking their final bows together. Perhaps this hints at the reason for Mr. Kwiecien’s prior akward early exit.

        • grimoaldo

          Yes, a great great night at the opera tonight, one of the very greatest I have ever spent in an opera house with a well-nigh perfect cast. I don’t think I have seen Kwiecien live before, only heard him in broadcasts from the Met and have found him rather dull and forgettable. But tonight he sang beautifully and was so moving, my god, in his death scene. Rene Pape I have also found rather bland at times but I thought he was really great tonight. A terrific Eboli in Krasteva , super song of the veils, knocked O don fatale out of the park, splendid in the role in every way. Ana Maria Martinez,what a find,heav-en-ly singing, huge and richly deserved ovation for Tu che la vanita.
          But the reason I flew from coast to coast to see this was for Fabiano and wow am I glad I did. The only other voice that has given me such thrills to hear live was June Anderson’s. Practically every note he sings sends chills up my spine when I hear him live, to me it does not have the same effect on a broadcast or recording although of course it is still enjoyable. He sings with such wonderful variation of tone, soft singing, loud singing, lyrical, dramatic,in despair, in love, just won-der-ful, every moment.
          The production did not bother me, I agree with the person above about the monstrous cut in the second Carlo/Elsiabetta duet when Carlo swoons, one of the most heavenly passages in the music and the essay in the programme references that moment as one of the few historically accurate depictions of the real people shown in the opera, so why the hell would they cut it out?
          Loved all the bells before the auto da fe scene and that they played the whole march. You couldn’t hear the offstage trumpets and banda clearly enough in that scene when the orchestra was also playing.
          I don’t agree that Luisotti’s conducting was ponderous or turgid. I have heard him conduct quite a lot of Verdi now and think he is a terrific Verdian, a true maestro.
          When I am present at a performance of Don Carlo(s) like the one tonight, I feel that it must be not only the greatest opera ever but the most monumental masterpiece of any form ever accomplished by humanity.
          Hooray for Michael the Fab, Bravo Maestro Luisotti and Viva Verdi!

  • Dolciamente Pipo

    Way back when Seattle Opera performed DC in the original French (5 Acts but no ballet). They used an ending I’d never heard before…nor have I heard it since. It was more protracted and much quieter. It was a real surprise and worked so much better than what we always get that I wonder why it’s never used.
    Sadly, I kind of glaze over when it comes to various performing versions, so I don’t really know if it constituted Verdi’s original or later thoughts on the matter.
    Anyhow, it was a great evening and one of the best things Seattle Opera has done.

    • Lohenfal

      You may have seen the original French ending of 1867, or at least some part of it. There is an extensive use of the chorus for the Inquisitors, then the appearance of the Monk, and finally a quiet ending for the orchestra.

      Verdi’s later thoughts (1882-83) were to omit most of this and get as fast as possible to the Monk. The new orchestral ending is extremely loud--that’s the one we’re used to.

      There is no definitive version of this opera. When Levine conducted DC at the Met, he included the opening chorus of woodcutters in Act One, something which Verdi had to cut before the Paris premiere. In the Met’s current version, those woodcutters are gone and I really miss them. Will they ever be reinstated? Probably not.

  • grimoaldo

    Real Don Carlos fans have to have this recording
    in French, though without a single native French person in a leading role, and in a terrible acoustic, sounds like it was recorded in an indoor swimming pool or something, but includes
    ALL the music Verdi wrote for the many different versions of this opera and is therefore invaluable.
    Yes that would have been the original quiet,sombre ending.

    • Cocky Kurwenal
      • grimoaldo

        Yes, that was the first performance in French of the original “first night” version including the passage where Eboli agrees to take the Queen’s place appearing at the climax of the ballet and they change veils and
        the ballet but if you look at this page
        you see that the Abbado recording includes appendices of variant versions or material cut by Verdi before the opening night-
        The opening chorus of woodcutters, cut by Verdi before the first performance for reasons of length. That passage was not published in any version of the score and was only rediscovered in the Paris Opera archives in the 60’s or 70’s

        A duet for Eboli and the Queen after the quartet in Act Four -- Verdi had to cut this in rehearsal because the two original singers of those parts could not be left alone on the stage together for any length of time, they would grimace at the audience while the other one was singing. Verdi replaced it with the shorter passage as it is now where Eboli confesses her affair with the King and the Queen banishes her

        A duet for the King and Carlos with chorus after Posa’s death with both the King and the prince mourning their dead friend but the tenor who created the title role, Jean Morère, refused to spend such a length of time sprawling around on the floor holding Posa’s body, he felt it was beneath his dignity, so Verdi cut it and reused the music in the “Lacrimosa” section of the Requiem. Verdi’s original intention was to open Act Five with a big scene for Carlos but he did not like Morère so wrote the wonderful scene for Elisabeth instead

        The alternative, quiet ending of the opera discussed on this thread, I am not sure which version that comes from

  • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin

    When it premiered at Wiener Staatsoper in October 2004, the Peter Konwitschny production of “Don Carlos” conducted by Bertrand de Billy alleged to be the World Premiere of the complete original Paris score, with all the cuts made during rehearsals restored (“Uraufführung der Originalfassung”). It is available on both CD (on Orfeo d’or) and DVD (TDK). There are more than four hours of music. The production has become a cult favorite and has been given in seven season since its premiere, most recently in 2013.

    • PCally

      One of his best productions IMO (I love him even if there are quite a few of his productions I don’t love)and completely worth owning, even if the Pappano video has much better singing.