[La Cieca is happy to present a guest review by Our Own Lindoro Almaviva.]

Cincinnati Opera makes a good case for the 4 act version of Don Carlo. I think it is a great idea that they used projected titles to give us the background of the opera (since we lose the Fontainebleau scene). This gave the production an almost cinematic start and maybe this was the reason why I was more receptive to it.  Kudos to whomever had the idea, it worked.

The opera was performed in a unit set with some movable parts that gave it variety. Overall, they were pretty to look most of the time. The set designer did not give us a set that inspired awe, but it was not on the way either, so I feel it worked. The one problem I found with it was that it felt claustrophobic. It made the Cincinnati stage look quite small.  

Since the production is co-owned by Cincinnati, Hawaii, Vancouver and Hong Kong, that might explain some of it. Yet, I do not see a reason why some of the parts (the stairs that dominated either side of the set) could have not been made to adapt to each stage’s size. At one point we were able to see several stagehands bring the proscenium for the auto da fe.

Cincinnati Opera Orchestra played well for Richard Buckley. Maestro Buckley on the other hand gave us conducting so routine and uninspiring it was frustrating. For starters, he wasn’t able to hold the orchestra at a volume level that would allow the singers to deliver the text consistently. Music Hall does not have a deep pit and the orchestra sits also right in front of the singers, not below like in most opera houses.

This means that the conductor has to work hard in creating a balance in a house where the orchestra could dominate the proceedings and cover the singers. Maestro Buckley did not achieve this. My other complaint was the edition that he chose. Let me describe it with this: We heard extended excerpts of act 1, extended excerpts of act 2 and extended excerpts of the auto da fe. The cuts were coming left and right at a maddening pace. The Veil song was shred to only 1 verse, the “Dio che nell’alma” duet was so fast it was rushed. There was no time to express anything. Towards the end of the act (the opera was performed in 2 acts with a break after the Auto da fe) I witness the maestro conducting while looking at his watch. That did it for me.

Now to the performers. Davis Lawrence Michael as the Friar/Carlo V was imposing and sang well. Elisabeth Pojanowski as Tebaldo and Amita Prakash as the celestial voice sang beautifully. Special kudos to Ms. Prakash for singing her part from the 3rd balcony, several feet above the orchestra and with no clear view of the beat. She did beautifully, sang on time and in tune and did a beautiful trill.

Morris Robinson‘s Inquisitor was a disappointment to me. For starters he was not imposing. His acting did not show the Inquisitor as the true power behind the throne. His voice was also a little woofy. The color of his voice is quite beautiful and it carries well. Let’s hope that he will continue to sing basso cantante roles and avoid basso profundo roles for a while.

Michele De Young as Eboli had roller coaster night. Her costume was not flattering and the design didn’t allow her to stand out from the chorus. Her make up also did her no favors. The Veil Song was a little labored and in the Fountain Scene trio she was not menacing. She reached her peak at the “O don fatale,” which she sang quite beautifully. Interestingly enough, what gave her trouble consistently through the night was her lowest notes.

She reached the Cb and the B’s in O don fatale with ease that would make any soprano turn around and take notice. I am not sure if this was Ms. De Young’s first outing as Eboli, if it was, it might explain why her character was not well defined. Let’s hope she will get to sing this role more often and with directors that will guide her and challenge her to create a three dimensional character. The vocal goods are there in spades.

Marco Caria as Rodrigo provided some truly amazing vocalism. His singing was strong and on pitch; he can also trill (thank God). His acting could use some work, but he remained a presence you noticed. Overall, we were very impressed with him. One thing, I have a feeling that we might have a Siegmund in training. His high notes were bright and had presence, even more so than his lower register. For a moment I thought that he might at one point or another test the waters in a studio and see if what we have is a helden tenor in the making. Bravo, Mr. Caria.

James Morris‘s Filippo was a lot better than I expected. After his rather wobbly contributions to the Met’s 125 Gala I was expecting more of the same. I am glad to report that he was in very good form. His singing and acting were both solid. His Filippo will never reach the heights of his Wotan, but it was a very good performance.

I will start my comments of Angela Brown‘s Elisabetta with my full disclosure statement. I have known Angela for a good 10-15 years now. We went to school together and we are now neighbors. I say this because if you want to take what I say with a grain of salt so be it. I thought Angela, or more accurately half of Angela, as she has lost 100 pounds, sang beautifully. Her “Non pianger” was beautifully vocalized with those pianos that she produces. Her acting was quite good and her regal bearing worthy of the queen. Her “Tu che le vanita” was another highlight of the evening.

Overall, I though Angela improved from the last time I saw her do the role (Philly several years ago). This is a good role for her and let’s hope she will continue singing it for a while.  Indianapolis residents will be able to sample her Ariadne next season and she will be in Vienna in November as Amelia in Ballo.

This leaves us with Don Carlo, Frank Porreta. I have tried to find ways to say this, but I have been unsuccessful; so here it is: a Don Carlo without a Don Carlo is not fair. Mr. Porreta treated us with a cardboard character and singing that was unacceptable in my book. He had 2 body positions (when he was standing): One foot on front of the other, knees bent and one hand on the air. Position no 2 was a mirror image of no. 1. His singing was not any better than his acting. He sang loud most of the time, some of the high notes were exiting (even I’ll admit to that) but no more. He was successful in portraying the stress of Carlo, but not the love. The one moment when he did sing piano, his voice got disconnected and it sounded falsetto. Overall, a disappointing performance.

Now to Sandra Bernhard‘s stage directing. Lemme tell you, the irony of her name did not escape us. This woman’s stage direction was so clumsy it was frustrating. I wanted to slap her. Remember that I told you that the stage felt a little claustrophobic? Well, in a Don Carlo, that shouldn’t matter too much if you get a director that seizes that and makes the staging and the actors react to all those wall closing in on them. The court, after all, was not the most welcoming place to be. Ms. Bernhard’s characters could not relate to each other or just ignored each other while they sang. There was not a scene where I didn’t find myself lowering my head while moving it east-west. It was embarrassing. Here are some of the passages that I thought were the worst of the night.

  • Carlo and Rodrigo not talking to each other while they expressed their brotherly love. They were looking to the front and not relating to each other. It was uncomfortable and amateurish.
  • King Phillip discovers that there is Carlo’s portrait on Elisabetta’s box AFTER she has entered and he has already started bitching her out. Hello! the reason why he sings Ella giammai is because he has open her jewelery box ALREADY! Bernhard was clueless and the scene started without real purpose. Phillip’s anger and resentment had no base.
  • Elisabetta passes out, Phillip calls for help, Eboli and Rodrigo come in and they start singing. Did you notice that I have not said who helped Elisabetta up? Hello! the queen of Spain is on the floor, passed out, the king called for help, she is still on the floor NOT moving! This went on for several minutes. I wanted to scream. Elisabetta helped herself up, “I’m OK, don’t mind me…”
  • Eboli confesses her sin. Her cross is taken from her and Elisabetta storms out (a valid interpretation) Eboli proceeds to take 2 steps (that’s all the room she had) and stop and the bottom of the stairs with her right hand extended. You knew this was her position to start her aria. It looked so clumsy and amateurish it was risible. The movement had no intention, it would have been a lot better had Eboli remained on her knees extended her arms and realized that she was not going to make it up to try to explain herself further to the queen. She could have started the aria on her knees and then work up.
  • The crowd is out for blood. Eboli walks in and tells Carlo that he needs to escape NOW. You would think that a man who is seeing a crowd ask for his head will make a run for it. Nope, they just exited leisurely…

Don Carlo plays again Sat evening. If you are in the area I encourage you to go and make up your own mind. I found the performance has enough virtues to recommend anyone who has never seen this opera, or fans of it, to go.