Washington Classical Review » Blog Archive » The beautiful cast of Maryland Lyric Opera ends its season with the sinister “Don Carlo”
Do you feel cynical about the intersection of religion and politics for some reason? Giuseppe Verdi’s darkest grand opera, don carlo, maybe just the thing you need right now. The Maryland Lyric Opera closes its half season with a semi-stage production, featuring a fierce cast and a gigantic orchestra, heard Friday night at the Music Center in Strathmore.
Musical director Louis Salemno presided over the Milan version of Verdi’s 1884 opera, reduced to four acts since its premiere as a five-act grand opera in Paris in 1867. This cast was as strong as that heard in the later local staging of work, by Washington National Opera in 2018, a velvet gloved swan song by the outgoing musical director of this company, Philippe Auguin.
Arturo Chacón-Cruz made his debut in the MDLO company, with heroic high notes and lyrical beauty in the title role. The Mexican-born tenor last sang in the region more than a decade ago, in a series of roles with the Washington National Opera early in his career. His voice and technical poise increased dramatically over the ensuing years, and he managed to make the character of the maligned heir to the Spanish throne both hateful and sympathetic.
Cuban-American soprano Elaine Alvarez also debuted with the company as Elisabetta, the French princess in love with Don Carlo but now married to his father, King Filippo. Her voice shone with power, but she could also moderate that volume with subtlety, fitting perfectly with Chacón-Cruz’s lighter sound in their Act I scene. delicate airs, like “Non pianger mia compagna” in Act I. The tragic duet with Carlo at the end of the opera was painful with anguish.
Bass-baritone Mark Delavan, a Regular MDLO, brought an incisive force to the role of Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa and devoted friend of Carlo. He also reduced his vocals to partner gently with Chacón-Cruz in their moving Act I duet, “Dio, che nell’alma infondere”. At times, Delavan seemed a little uncertain, but Salemno’s careful direction helped him navigate small slips with the text or when he rushed ahead of the beat.
Mezzo-soprano Catherine Martin, fondly remembered from her time on WNO’s Cafritz Young Artists program, made a fiery Eboli princess. She was flirtatious in her “Veil Song,” then just as venomous when she learned she wasn’t loved by Carlos, setting off a sonic wave in the gripping Act II scene with Carlo and Rodrigo. His Act III centerpiece, “O don fatale”, featured high notes of rage.
Bass Andrea Silvestrelli, who was a stunning Grand Inquisitor in the WNO 2018 production, brought the same stentorian intensity to the role of King Filippo. In the scene with Rodrigo at the end of Act I, where Posa speaks the truth to monarchical power, the king’s threat in response was all too real. At the same time, in the lament at the start of Act III, when the king realizes that the queen loves his son and not him, Silvestrelli groans and sobs with moving delicacy.
The supporting cast excelled, especially Kenneth Kellogg’s burly Grand Inquisitor and SeungHyeon Baek’s sturdy Frate, who were heard from both the upper balcony and the stage. The 77-voice choir, seated on the first balcony above the stage and singing from memory like the principals, roared impressively in the grand choral performances, beginning with the basses singing like the monks in the stage of opening.
The company also commissioned the full instrumentation for this weight score, with excellent contributions all around. Four horns played the Act I introduction with heraldic polish. The amassed brass section, comprising two cornets and two trumpets, added a royal touch to the King and Queen’s entrance. The three flutes shimmered in the Act III quartet, and the bassoons and contrabassoon rumbled with the entrance of the Grand Inquisitor.
All this musical agglomeration reached its climax in a superb auto-da-fé scene at the end of Act II. The enormous banda, seated backstage to the left beyond a large open stage door, featured all the instruments Verdi claimed, including the d-terzino clarinet, flugelhorns and bass tubas, all perfectly coordinated by Husan Park. The antiphonal interplay between the orchestra on stage, the banda off stage, the choir above and the principals on the platform was of dizzying magnitude.
Although there were no costumes, visual supervisor David Gately oversaw effective half-staging. Efficient lighting (designed by Stuart Duke) added just enough dramatic spectacle, as with the throbbing red lights evoking the purifying fire devouring heretics at the end of the auto-da-fé. Projections designed by Sarah Tundermann drew heavily on the paintings of El Greco for Spanish flavor and apocalyptic fervour, including his View of Toledo and Vision of Saint Johnas well as that of Goya Court of the Inquisition.
don carlo will be repeated Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Music Center in Strathmore. mdlo.org