The Jerusalem Post, 09/07/2013
|By IRVING SPITZ
Verdi: Don Carlo, Salzburger Festspiele, August 2013
Celebrating the centenaries of Verdi, Wagner and Benjamin Britten
At the Salzburg Summer Festival, passion, pride, anger and remorse
take center stage.
SALZBURG – During the current six-week
Salzburg Summer Festival, there were 11 new operatic productions, seven of
which were staged.
Verdi’s epic masterpiece, Don Carlo, adapted from
a play by the German dramatist, Friedrich von Schiller, is the longest and
most ambitions in his canon. It is a love story set in a background of
political intrigue and uncompromising religious fervor. Its 1867 five-act
premiere took place in Paris; Verdi subsequently made a shorter Italian
version in which he jettisoned the first act and made additional cuts.
The current production used the original French edition sung in Italian.
In the first act, Don Carlo encounters by chance Elisabetta, daughter of the
king of France, in the forest of Fontainebleau. She had been betrothed to
him as part of the peace treaty between Spain and France. Unbeknown to them,
Don Carlo’s father, Philip ll, rescinded this and decided to marry
Omitting this first act makes it difficult to
understand the evolving love affair between Don Carlo and his adopted
Peter Stein directed this production, which ran for just over
five hours. Anja Harteros as Elisabetta is a Verdi soprano of stature, with
dramatic acting ability, imposing stage presence and a gleaming voice,
equally striking in both the low and high passages. It is not easy to
portray Don Carlo’s reckless, vacillating and hysterical personality, but
tenor Jonas Kaufman proved to be up to the task and gave a poignant, vocally
Both consummate artists complemented each
other in their three encounters. Their initial meeting reveals two immature
passionate lovers. In the next act, Elisabetta, now queen, rebuffs Don
Carlo’s advances. In their final encounter, they realize the futility of
their relationship, which evolves into one on a spiritual level.
Veteran bass Matti Salminen as Philip II started somewhat hesitatingly but
summoning his vocal reserves, rising to the occasion and giving an
outstanding portrayal of this great role. Bass Eric Halfvarson was the
uncompromising grand inquisitor, and succeeded in bringing out the malice of
the character. Mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk took on the role of the
duplicitous Eboli, who is in love with Don Carlo and when rebuffed, betrays
him and the queen. Her singing and acting captured all the dramatic changes
in her demeanor, displaying arrogance, pride, anger and remorse as
The most complex but key character of the opera is
Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa, which was sung by baritone Thomas Hampson. This
character is a creation of Schiller, and has no historical authenticity.
Rodrigo is the only true friend and confidant of the king, and is also the
bridge of communication between Elisabetta and Don Carlo. It is he who
encourages the latter to support the Flemish insurrection against Spain.
Hampson’s voice still retains its wonderful mellifluous character, making
him one of the world’s foremost baritones.
To me, Act 4 of this opera
represents the pinnacle not only of Verdi’s oeuvre but arguably of all
opera. It has everything: love, devotion, pity, sacrifice, hate, jealousy,
revenge and anger, set in the background of religious and political
conflict. It begins with the great soliloquy of “King Philip Ella giammai
m’amo” (She never loved me), sung with passion, dignity and sadness by
Salminen – when he bemoans the fact that his wife has no affection for him.
Then follows the confrontation with Philip and the grand inquisitor, where
the former confides that his son has committed treason. The inquisitor
agrees to the king’s decision to kill him, but asks in turn for the head of
Rodrigo. Philip angrily refuses. This famous duet between the two basses was
most convincingly executed.
Then there is the altercation between
Philip and Elisabetta, when he mistakenly accuses her of infidelity, and
Eboli’s great show-stopping aria, “O Don fatale” (O fatal gift), when she
admits that it was she who betrayed the queen. The final scene of this act
is set in prison where Rodrigo comes to visit the detained Don Carlo, and is
shot on the king’s order. In their final poignant duet, sensitively and
beautifully rendered by these two great singers, they expressed their
undying devotion – climaxing to the strains of the leitmotif that is heard
in their earlier encounters.
Ferdinand Wogerbauer’s sets were sparse,
unimaginative and somewhat sterile. The dominant color in the costumes was
black. The only nod to the forest in Act 1 was a pile of logs on either side
of the giant stage. In the distance, through a passageway, one could discern
a multistory building. The staging of Act 3, when Don Carlos mistakenly
confuses the disguised Eboli with the queen, consisted of a marquee in the
background and what seemed like a turnstile line, with barriers through
which the soloists had to negotiate. The great auto-da-fe inquisition scene,
occurring later on in this act, was impressively staged.
Philharmonic Orchestra under Antonio Pappano was in top form and captured
all the nuances of this great score. Particularly noteworthy was the
outstanding cello obbligato in Philip’s great aria at the beginning of Act