The Washington National Opera presented Tim Albery’s production of Verdi’s “Don Carlo” with an impressive cast of Verdian singers.
Russell Thomas’ Don Carlo
In the title role, Florida lyric tenor Russell Thomas gave an impassioned, vocally secure performance of Don Carlo, the anguished heir to the Spanish throne.
Throughout the performance and particularly in the great Verdi ensembles, Thomas was vocally expressive and dramatically convincing.
[Below: Russell Thomas as Don Carlo; edited image, based on a Scott Suchman photograph, courtesy of the Washington National Opera.]
In addition to Carlo’s introspective arias such as his opening Io l’ho perduta!, much of the music that Verdi wrote for Don Carlo takes place in duets, such as the anthem Dio, che nell’alma in fondere that provides a leitmotiv for his friendship with Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa and Carlo’s Act IV farewell to Eiisabetta.
Thomas’, whose performances of Bellini (Review: Meade, Barton, Thomas, Robinson Sing Beautifully in “Norma” – Los Angeles Opera, November 21, 2015 and A Second Look: “Norma” at the San Francisco Opera – September 14, 2014) and early Verdi (Review: Hurt, Bauer, Angeletti, Barton, Thomas in “Nabucco” – Seattle Opera, August 9, 2015) I have admired, showed mastery of Verdi’s later style.
Leah Crocetto’s Elisabetta di Valois
Michigan soprano Leah Crocetto sang the role of the Elisabetta di Valois, the French princess who (in an act that exists in the earlier French version but not in the Italian version of the opera seen here) had just warmed up to the idea of marrying the Spanish Prince when it was announced she would be marrying the prince’s father instead.
Crocetto performed brilliantly, confidently delivering her great final act aria Tu che le vanita conoscesti del mondo with stunning effectiveness.
[Below: Leah Crocetto as Elisabetta di Valois; edited image, based on a Scott Suchman photograph, courtesy of the Washington National Opera.]
Crocetto is increasingly identified as with Verdi’s lead soprano roles, notably Aida at the San Francisco Opera [Review: Zambello’s Spectacular “Aida”, San Francisco Opera, November 5, 2016], the Washington National Opera and later this spring, at the Seattle Opera [See Taking on Opera’s Great Soprano Roles: A Conversation with Leah Crocetto.]
Jamie Barton’s Princess Eboli
Georgia mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton was an extraordinary Princess Eboli, effectively negotiating the different styles of her first act lyric-coloratura veil song and the dramatic thrust of her final aria O don fatale.
[Below: Jamie Barton as the Princess Eboli; edited image, based on a Scott Suchman photograph, courtesy of the Washington National Opera.]
Barton possesses rich chest tones and a gleaming top voice, all utilized effectively for a dramatic performance as the ill-fated princess.
Quinn Kelsey’s Rodrigo, Marquis di Posa
Hawaiian baritone Quinn Kelsey sang beautifully as the Marquis of Posa, in duets with Barton’s Princess Eboli relating news from France, and in advocating for the oppressed peoples of Flanders to Thomas’ Carlo and to Eric Owens’ King Philip.
[Below: the Marquis di Posa (Quinn Kelsey, left) comforts Don Carlo (Russell Thomas, right); edited image, based on a Scott Suchman photograph, courtesy of the Washington National Opera.]
Kelsey has the requisite vocal instrument for the lead Verdi baritone roles, robust and dramatic, exhibiting comfort in the higher parts of the baritone range [see Review: Quinn Kelsey a World Class Verdi baritone in “Rigoletto” – San Francisco Opera, May 31, 2017.]
He utilized his Verdian skills memorably, especially in the scene with the imprisoned Don Carlo where, assassinated by the agents of the Grand Inquisitor, Kelsey’s Posa dies in Carlo’s arms.
Eric Owens’ King Phillip II
Pennsylvania bass-baritone Eric Owens masterfully portrayed King Philip II, who ranks as one of Verdi’s supreme achievements in creating a larger-than-life character.
Philip’s dramatic monologue on his failed marriage and his disastrous relationship with his son Carlo is the pinnacle of achievement to which most bass-baritones and bassos who sing Verdi roles aspire.
[Eric Owens as King Philip II of Spain; edited image, based on a Scott Suchman photograph, courtesy of the Washington National Opera.]
I have long been an admirer of Eric Owens vocal power and dramatic effectiveness, in musical styles as diverse as Wagner [Review: Chicago’s Imaginative New “Walküre”: Goerke, Owens, Jovanovich, Strid Excel – Lyric Opera, November 30, 2017], early Verdi [Review: Gripping Portraits by Eric Owens, Melody Moore in Anne Bogart’s Staging of Verdi’s “Macbeth” – Glimmerglass Festival, July 17, 2015], Weill [Eric Owens is Vocally Powerful, Dramatic and Emotional in Kurt Weill’s “Lost in the Stars” – Glimmerglass Festival, July 22, 2012] and Gershwin [Eric Owens, Laquita Mitchell Lead Powerful “Porgy and Bess” at San Francisco Opera – June 21, 2009.]
Andrea Silvestrelli’s Grand Inquisitor and Other Cast Members
Italian born American basso Andrea Silvestrelli has made the Grand Inquisitor one of his signature roles, his sonorous basso profondo enlisted to suggest a sinister power (albeit one who is certain he is doing God’s work).
[Below: Andrea Silvestrelli as the Grand Inquisitor; edited image, based on a David Bachman photograph, courtesya of the Washington National Opera.]
Connecticut mezzo-soprano Allegra De Vita was Tebaldo, Maryland tenor Robert Baker was the Count of Lerma, Virginia tenor Frederick Ballentine was the Royal Herald.
Alexandria Shiner sang the offstage role of the Celestial Voice with distinction, substituting for an ailing colleague.
Philippe Auguin and the Washington National Opera Orchestra and Chorus
French Maestro Philippe Auguin conducted the Washington National Opera and Chorus in a performance that realized the power of the mature Verdi’s musical style.
[Maestro Philippe Auguin; edited image, based on a Dario Acosta photograph, from philippeauguin.org.]
Tim Albery’s Production
Canadian director Tim Albery’s production was seen earlier at Opera Philadelphia and is co-produced with the Minnesota Opera.
The production incorporates ideas from an earlier Albery production for Great Britain’s Opera North. It focuses on the doomed personal interrelationships of five characters who exist in the stifling environment of 16th century Spain.
The story is historical fiction, intended as an indictment of the stultifying control of late medieval Spanish life by the Catholic Church, the Inquisition and the personage of the Grand Inquisitor, as envisioned by the anticlerical Giuseppe Verdi and the ultimate source of the drama, the German playwright Friedrich Schiller.
Albery utilizes a unit set, of which the audience view changes from the first half of the opera to the latter half. At opera’s beginning a spatial interior in which doorways are level with the floor and a large octagonal window reveals a domed ceiling
[Below: a scene from the first half of “Don Carlo”; edited image, based on a Scott Suchman photograph, courtesy of the Washington National Opera.]
In the latter half, mounds of earth cover up the lower parts of half of the doorways, while a cloud-filled sky beams through the octagonal window.
[Below: King Philip II (Eric Owens, front, on sloped stage) reflects on his relations with his family; a scene from the second half of “Don Carlo”; edited image, based on a Scott Suchman photograph, courtesy of the Washington National Opera.]
At the beginning of the 21st century, several critics and an occasional opera administrator lamented the lack of opera singers prepared to sing the great Verdi operas. “Don Carlo” in unquestionably one of the most demanding of Verdi’s operas.
I was fortunate to have seen virtually all of the reigning superstar Verdians of the latter part of the 20th century and appreciated their extraordinary talents. Even so, it is my conviction that the cast that Washington National Opera assembled for the six principal “Don Carlo” roles would be the equal of any group of those 20th century Verdians of decades past.
I recommend both the cast and the Tim Albery production, both for the veteran opera-goer and the person new to opera.