Classicagenda, le 18 octobre 2017
|par Cinzia Rota
Verdi: Don Carlos, Paris, Oktober 2017
Don Carlos in Paris: an exceptional cast for a sharp staging
Since October the 10th, the Paris Opera has been setting Don Carlos
by Verdi in its French version in 5 acts of 1866, with a promising cast:
Sonya Yoncheva, Jonas Kaufmann, Ludovic Tézier, Elīna Garanča and Ildar
It all begins with an arranged marriage: Elisabeth de Valois is promised to
the infant of Spain, in order to make peace reign over their countries, at
war for decades. Never having seen his fiancée, Don Carlos leaves for France
to meet her in secret, pretending to be a member of the Spanish ambassador’s
It is in the forest of Fontainebleau that he meets her,
riding a horse while wearing a wedding dress. It’s immediately love at first
sight and when Carlos reveals his true identity, Elizabeth is pleasantly
surprised. Both rejoice at their engagement, but the idyll is soon
interrupted by the news that Elizabeth’s future husband will not be Carlos,
but his father Philip II.
The female sacrifice and the threat of
The people of France get on stage to complain about their harsh
living conditions (« When will your cold, dark winter come to an end! Alas!
When will the war end? ») and implore Elizabeth to marry the king, in order
to put an end to the war.
Moral blackmail is carried out on the young
woman who, feeling a sense of guilt, accepts an imposed destiny: « O
princess, accept Philip as a husband! Peace! We suffer so much, have mercy
on us! ».
As in Le Cheval et la Mariée by Niki de Saint Phalle, the
imaginary fairy tale is overturned and the playful fiancée finds herself
trapped in a forced marriage. Upset by this unexpected change, the two
lovers surrend to despair, which the presence of the crowd only accentuates.
Therefore, yet another woman is sacrificed for the common good, like a
bargaining counter, a commodity or an object belonging to someone. « To King
Philip II Henry gave you ! » says Thibault , »She belongs to him, my
goodness! I lost her! » says Carlos later.
In Le corps d’une reine,
Sylvène Edouard writes: »Elisabeth was an object of negotiation and later, a
body handed over as a guarantee and the incarnation of the new agreement ».
It may be said that her body is an idea, and that she will remain for
posterity a « queen of peace », but for her it’s only a death sentence :
»Rather than being queen and carrying this chain, I want to go down to the
tomb », just as for Carlos: »The fatal hour is sounded! ».
of death creeps in, to stay all along the opera: Rodrigue sacrifices himself
to save his friend Carlos, Elisabeth takes some poison, Carlos disappears
with the ghost of Charles V, Eboli buries herself in a convent and the king
becomes nothing more than a puppet in the hands of the Church.
hypocritical religion rising above temporal power
A prisoner is dragged
violently on stage. Powerless, the man is sentenced to death and ends up at
the stake, devoured by the flames. This is how Warlikowski reminds us that
we are in the midst of the Inquisition, where people were judged and
murdered in the name of God.
Far from the very graphic violence of
Philippe Himmelmann’s Don Carlo, which caused a scandal in Berlin because of
the bodies hanging from the ceiling, we find here the same state of mind,
underlining the horrors of this dark age of history.
It is the
ruthless Great Inquisitor who incarnates here the absolute Evil, like Saturn
devouring his children.
Sitting quietly on stage, this character with the
air of a mobster governs the lives of the common folk but also those of the
rulers. He won’t hesitate to incite the king to kill his son (« The peace of
the world is worth the blood of a rebellious son. God, to save us all,
sacrificed his own. ») and manipulate him to eliminate Rodrigo, who
threatens his power (« A man dares to undermine the divine edifice. The
spirit of the innovators is already penetrating! […] Do your duty! …] Give
us the Marquis of Posa! »)
The power of the church prevails over the
king’s, and the weak Philip II « bows down and remains silent while faith
speaks » and faces his limitations: « If royalty would give us the power to
read in the depths of the hearts, where God alone can see everything! »
Fascinating visual aesthetics
Although the invasive and superfluous
video projections could have been avoided, Krzysztof Warlikowski’s staging
is inventive and refreshing: the « pleasant place » is revisited as a
fencing class, the procession on the steps of the church before the
auto-da-fé becomes a veritable inquisition court and the king’s cabinet
looks like a home cinema.
As the five acts go on, the whole scene is
exploited, in a set of interconnected elements. The solid wood panelling
contrasts with the light grilling fences, the large surfaces give way to
smaller spaces, and Felice Ross’s lights add a new dynamism to the
minimalist scenery by Małgorzata Szczęśniak.
The choir’s garments in
the third act are very well imagined: there are women wrapped in elegant
fabrics with hats on their heads, men in military uniforms, clergy and nuns
in their costumes, all in a beautiful array of colours, which contrasts with
the cruelty of the massacre of the « heretics ».
On the personregie
side we notice the elegance of the pages, the ladies-in-waiting and the
servants and the interesting frame within a frame in the fourth act, where a
woman and a man become the indifferent audience of the king’s sorrow, one
sitting on the resting bed, smoking, and the other standing behind her.
A dream cast that doesn’t disappoint
Under the direction of Philippe
Jordan, the Paris Opera Orchestra performs Verdi’s « French » score in an
intense and eloquent manner, emphasizing both the inner dramas and plot
twists, causing us to shiver, as during the beautiful trio of Act 3.
choir is just as striking, especially in the scene where the Flemish
deputies ask their king for peace and their heartfelt plea for peace is
joined by the whole choir in a striking climax.
delights us with her soft yet powerful voice, and interprets an assured
Elizabeth, which contrasts with the quiet and introspective Don Carlos by
Jonas Kaufmann. The touching musicality of the German tenor, with his
incomparable dark timbre, guides us through the story: his character evolves
and his voice blossoms. From a carefree and fragile young heir, collapsing
on the ground at every dramatic moment, he becomes a committed and brave
man, who fights for the Flemish cause and defies his father several times:
»O king of murder and horror! See who will wear your bloody crown when your
last hour is up! »
Ludovic Tézier is an extraordinary Marquis de
Posa. His vocal qualities are at the same level as his stage presence, with
his irreproachable technique, a fluid and bewitching legato, and a natural
and eloquent play, particularly in the tender duet with Kaufmann « In the
name of a dear friend… »
Dressed in black among the white fencers,
Elīna Garanča unfolds her beautiful dark and brilliant voice in the famous
song of the veil. Femme fatale with ambiguous sexuality, her Eboli dominates
the stage. Even when exiled, she is not defeated and asserts herself one
last time by kissing the king in front of everyone. The sovereign is
embodied in a very credible way by Ildar Abdrazakov. The great musicality of
the bass and the sincerity of his interpretation give this violent,
hypocritical and coward king a moving appeal.
If Eve-Maud Hubeaux is
a successful Thibault, the real surprise is the grand inquisitor by Dmitry
Belosselskiy, whose voice of unbelievable depth leaves us speechless.