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2003, Severence Hall, Cleveland, Don Carlo

Don Carlo

(Four act version in Italian)

Composer: Guiseppe Verdi
Librettist: Joseph Méry and Camille du Locle after Schiller’s drama, Cormon’s drama and Prescott’s history. Revised in 4 acts by du Locle, translated into Italian by Angelo Zanardini based on Achile de Lauziéres’ original version
Venue and Dates: Severance Hall in Cleveland (Concert performance)
5th and 8th June 2003
Conductor: Franz Welser-Möst
Philip II, King of Spain : Samuel Ramey
Don Carlo :  Marcus Haddock
Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa : Simon Keenlyside
Elisabeth, Philip’s queen : Miriam Gauci
Princess Eboli : Yvonne Naef
The Grand Inquisitor : Hao Jiang Tian
Tebaldo : Rebecca Ringle
Count of Lerma : Joseph Holmes
An old monk : Eric Owens
Voice from Heaven : Malia Bendi Merad
Six Flemish Deputies : Keith Brautigam, Dan Hild, Ray Liddle,
Cyrus A McFarlin, Michael Preacely, Robert Thompson
The Cleveland Orchestra
The Cleveland Orchestra Chorus
Notes: This production was broadcast on 5 November 2005, BBC Radio 3, 18:30 (GMT), Opera On 3


Steve Rugare, posted 7th June 2004

Franz Welser-Möst ended his first season as Music Director of the Cleveland Orchestra with concert performances of the four-act version of Verdi’s Don Carlo. The dramatic set-up involved a cat-walk above the orchestra and chorus (entered from the organ loft) and two podiums at either side of the stage, a set-up devised for last season’s Siegfried. While the two podiums produced a suitable arrangement for the confrontation between King Philip and the Grand Inquisitor, the staging could do little to clarify the comings and goings in other scenes of a busy opera. Even with surtitles, the auto-da-fe must have been hard to follow for viewers unfamiliar with this too-seldom performed masterpiece. Few people are likely to have noticed the only cut in the score, the Herald’s invocation to open the doors of Our Lady of Atocha, since there was barely room for the Flemish deputies, much less any sort of Coronation procession. (In fact, Philip was in a completely separate part of the stage from his queen.)

These understandable defects aside, Welser-Möst led a largely well-sung and musically urgent performance. Sometimes the urgency was a bit much, and there were lyrical passages, particularly the two great soprano-tenor duets, that could have breathed more. The Orchestra – few if any of whom can ever have encountered the score before – took to the Verdian style nicely, producing appropriately tender and brash effects as needed. A particular joy was the cello solo before “Ella giamai m’amó,” which provided Stephen Geber with a wonderful turn in his last Severance Hall concerts as Principal Cellist. The Chorus were a bit too polite for their contributions, sounding uncomfortably at times like they were singing Gilbert and Sullivan, but at least the sopranos were less squally than we’ve been hearing lately in Met broadcasts.

Two of the announced soloists were replaced a few weeks before the run, and I suspect both replacements were actually improvements. Tenor Marcus Haddock (replacing Vincenzo LaScola) was fine in the title role. He had sufficient weight to project the more strident moments in the relatively intimate hall, and brought welcome sensitivity the role’s more sensitive and introspective moments. He also projected the text well, though he’d probably do even better in the French version.

The other replacement (one can hardly say understudy) was Samuel Ramey. His recent Met broadcasts have sounded pretty woolly, but in the Severance acoustic he sounded a good ten years younger than 62, producing a commanding and richly sung King Philip. Sadly the estimable Hao Jiang Tian’s Inquisitor was not really a match for him in authority or pointed sarcasm. Bass Eric Owens was fine as the offstage Monk/Charles V.

The marketing for these performances was based around “it” baritone Simon Keenlyside, taking on Rodrigo for the first time. I’d never heard him live before, and I was pleasantly surprised that his voice really has the tonal range and force for the role. He was at his best in the death scene, though he too would probably be better off singing in French. That said, much of his performance was definitely tentative, and his nervous habit of petting the vocal score like a security blanket detracted from whatever presence he might have made in the crucial confrontation with the King.

Miriam Gauci was also something of an absence as Elisabetta, and we can hardly put that down to jitters or unfamiliarity in this veteran singer. Her voice sounds basically right for the role, and I couldn’t really find anything to criticize in her musical performance. It’s just that there was never much reason to listen to her. Even with gorgeous orchestral support, she failed to take hold of “Tu che le vanitá” and show the audience the deeply tragic heart of the opera. The aria is so perfect that I don’t think it can really fail, but apparently it can pass by without much effect.

Perhaps Gauci simply paled in comparison to Yvonne Naëf’s Eboli. Here was a real stage animal, decked out in cunning gold lamé slippers and a billowing yellow cape and pouncing on every opportunity Verdi gave her. In other words, a real Eboli. She made “O don fatale” the dramatic highlight of the evening and threw herself into any number of other moments with exciting abandon. Vocally, Naëf is probably a mess. She has Rossini in her credits, but had to croon through the (poorly articulated) coloratura of the Veil Song. Apparently, she has sacrificed a lot to produce a powerful sound in Verdi and Wagner, and one suspects her voice won’t hold together long. In the meantime, though, she’s a lot of fun.

The smaller roles were taken by local artists, among whom Oberlin graduate Malia Bendi Meral’s Tebaldo deserves particular commendation. All in all, this Don Carlo was an ambitious effort, and none of the flaws was bad enough to prevent Verdi’s great score from shining through.

Alan Montgomery, Opera News


The Cleveland Orchestra closed its 2002­03 season with concert performances of Verdi’s Don Carlo in the four-act version from 1884 (heard June 5 at Severance Hall). The only cut was of the role of the Herald, though the underused Lerma easily could have taken that role as well. The concert stage involved a raised center platform and two smaller platforms on either side. While this occasionally made the characters’ conversations difficult, it also added symbolism. With the Inquisitor on one side and King Philip on the other, the physical and dramatic gulf between them could not have been greater, and the drama remained intense.

American tenor Marcus Haddock, replacing a previously announced singer, took the title role quite ably, his dark, burnished tone embracing the entire range of the part with ease. His phrasing and dramatic involvement were also impressive. Another replacement, Samuel Ramey, sang Filippo. His well-known voice was a joy to hear, and his dramatic projection showed his long association with the part. Simon Keenlyside sang Posa with admirable vocalism and musicality. He was, however, the only soloist using a printed score, and this blunted his dramatic involvement. Hao Jiang Tian was a stalwart force as the Grand Inquisitor.

Miriam Gauci’s truly Italianate soprano suited the role of Elisabetta, and her dynamic control in the final aria and duet were wonderful to hear. Yvonne Naef’s Eboli was a delightful surprise. Though perhaps less well-known than her colleagues, she offered unfaltering vocal command, and her “O don fatale,” sung with great passion, brought the performance to a lengthy halt for applause. Stephen Geber’s cello solo at the beginning of Act III was poignantly played.

Franz Welser-Möst’s command of the massed forces was complete. Though the orchestra occasionally showed that Italian opera (and Don Carlo particularly) is not their usual métier, it was still a joy to hear such a high-quality ensemble playing this prickly score. Welser-Möst’s shaping of long scenes was sure, and he exercised keen dynamic control of the orchestra, never covering the singers. The chorus, trained by Robert Porco, was a worthy participant in the proceedings. The standing ovation was well deserved.

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