Friday, November 4, 2011

Don Carlo in Berlin -- one to remember [Runnicles et al]

Don Carlo, Deutsche Oper Berlin, November 2nd 2011

Conductor ..... Donald Runnicles
Director ..... Marco Arturo Marelli

King Philip of Spain ..... Roberto Scandiuzzi
Don Carlo ..... Massimo Giordano
Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa ..... Boaz Daniel
Inquisitor ..... Ante Jerkunica
A monk ..... Ryan McKinny
Elisabeth of Valois ..... Lucrezia Garcia
Princess of Eboli ..... Anna Smirnova
The page Thibaut ..... Hila Fahima
Count of Lerma / Herold ..... Matthew Peña
A voice ..... Kathryn Lewek
Flemish deputies ..... Alexey Bogdanchikov
Flemish deputies ..... Hyung-Wook Lee
Flemish deputies ..... Simon Pauly
Flemish deputies ..... Jörn Schümann
Flemish deputies ..... Marko Mimica
Flemish deputies ..... Tobias Kehrer

Chor der Deutschen Oper Berlin (William Spaulding)
Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin

With Anja Harteros pulling out from the Berlin's new production of Don Carlo, there was no really big name to attract much of your attention. Of course there was the fact that Marco Arturo Marelli was to unveil his new production at the opera house in which he previously staged an extraordinary Aegypische Helena, an opera with impossible libretto that required a wizard to stitch the far fetched pieces together and make the drama become plausible and flowing impeccably. Now, after I saw this new Don Carlo, I realize both my presumptions were wrong: (1) singing was at the extraordinarily high level across the board, and (2) Marelli was half-lazy. While Marelli's show is better than the Nicholas Hytner production that was recently decorating the stages at the ROH and The Met, for the Berlin and Marelli's standards this production did not live up to our expectations.

I believe a part of the problem is that Marelli was at the same time the set designer and was in charge of lights. He was overindulging in decorating, did it cleverly and very well,  but forgot directing the actors, who were merely following the movements of the massive walls on the stage. They (actors/singers) would open their arms to sing, made half turn to express their frustration and turn their backs to the audience,  the male characters would occasionally kneel, and when necessary Elisabeth and Carlo would hold hands... The sets are indeed impressive and cleverly constructed. They look like  dark stones that move in many different ways, almost invariably organized to form a cross that beams through the stones from the lit background. These walls move in many ways (in 3D), making the stage transform almost continuously, helping to boost the dynamics of the stage action, but constantly depicting the obscure chambers, corridors, and space that makes you feel claustrophobic, or even paranoid [even the walls can hear you in there.]

There are a few scenes that are very well organized. I liked the opening scene with the monks prostrating in front of the luminous cubic chapel. Always efficient scene of "Auto-da-fé" was well done too. Marelli decided to place the stacks of books and three heretics in the stage background, while the ceremony is going on at the front part of the stage (walls formed the towerish shape to host people -- which was the main purpose of this terrorizing ceremonies).  Marelli also personified "the voice from above". It is actually a woman [divinely sung by Kathryn Lewek!] who is taken her baby away from her by the inquisitors.

So yes, there were some good moments, the sets and lights were superb, but I prefer the live stage action to this Met-Standard show that you can see in the cinemas. In that respect, this show is polar opposite to the ones I discussed in the my two last blog entries.

The evening was however memorable thanks to the superb musical quality of the show. One of the world best choruses was magnificent and the homogenous quality of singing was totally impressive. I should start with Massimo Giordano who is terrific in the title role. Not only does he sing it beautifully, effortlessly, and delicately [piani are piani, and forti are forti, and a whole palette in between], he is perfectly comprehensible in every word he sings in a recognizable Italian style (coloring most of the endings of the verses.) This is his role debut and he deserves heaps of Bravos for what he did.

Roberto Scandiuzzi's King is more emotional than despotic, and so the impact of his voice is fantastic during "Ella giammai m'amò!". Ante Jerkunica is young, his Inquisitore might not be "frightening" yet, but his voice is getting broader every time I get to listen to him, and he is bound to become the world top tier bass singer very soon.
The ladies were absolutely stunning. Anna Smirnova was brilliant on so many levels. Her Princess Eboli sings; she never shouts, and she never employs the vulgar "verismo" mannerism that so often pollutes this role. She sustains the top-voltage-intensity and manages to vocally build a portrait of this character with a rare emotional depth. This must be one of the best singing of a Verdi role in years. 5 10 stars for "O don fatale" alone!
To make the things more positively surprising, we were given the opportunity to listen to the singing wonder from Venezuela -- Lucrezia Garcia. Ta-dah! She is young, her voice is the Verdian kind of big, but still very flexible in all registers -- beautifully luminous high notes are easily converted into the broad and perfectly audible gravi. It is quite striking that at such a young age Lucretia possesses that level of interpretative maturity -- particularly compelling "Tu che le vanità".

Boaz Daniel does a very good job too. He is obviously at ease with top notes and even though the fatigue somewhat dechromatised his voice in the later parts of the show, his vocal and scenic engagement remained admirable.

So the entire cast was more than fantastic -- including the little roles too.  Actor direction and singing -- at the level of the best evenings at the Met.    

The cherry on the cake was definitely Donald Runnicles. The orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin was always very good but somehow never at the level of the Berlin Staatskapelle. This is changing! We could already see the huge progress they've made during Tristan und Isolde, and also their ambitious take on Les Troyens, but now we are in the zone of the best among the best in the world.  The fruits of the work by Runnicles with this orchestra show now. The orchestra sounds fan-freaking-tastic, and Runnicles runs the show splendidly from the get go to the very last note of the score. Particularly impressive were the winds, as well as the explosive attacks of the strings that defined the foundation to the music that will remain as one of the top treats this year. Verdi music is often pathossy and fugly, but when performed in this way, with this amount of care, it gets all its beauty back.

The critics should be fair and stress that Kirsten Harms was absolutely right in insisting on the idea that Donald Runnicles was the man who can make the difference and turn this excellent orchestra into the great one!

Orchestra-wise this must be the best Don Carlo in business today. Donald da man!

Production photos [© Barbara Aumüller]

Massimo at his lifetime best

Don Carlo prior to Auto-da-fé

Anna smashing Smirnova: Princes Eboli & Don Carlo

Rodrigo (portrayed as an intellectual character in this production) and Carlo

Philipp II Scandiuzzi

Don Carlo and Elisabeth de Valois

Grand Inquisitore visits King Philipp

My photos:

Superb Deutsche Oper Chorus with William Spaulding in the center

Massimo Giordani and Lucrezia Garcia

Boaz Daniel, Anna Smirnova, and Roberto Scandiuzzi

This is the very last scene of the show

Anna Smirnova

Ante Jerkunica and Boaz Daniel

Massimo Giordano

Elisabeth, Carlo, Eboli, and Philipp

Runnicles the Great

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like you really caught a great show! Thanks for all the details. I almost feel like I was there even though I unfortunately wasn't. :oD Hope you catch many more shows like this... and write about them afterward! ;o)