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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Opera Review
Don Carlo

This sumptuous new production of Verdi's Don Carlo draws electricity and energy from the Company's new Music Director James Conlon's intuitive musicality and director Ian Judge's dramatic staging. They, in turn, without modernizing it in any way, find the contemporary echoes in this medieval tragedy based on historic events.

King Philip of Spain committed his rebellious young son Don Carlo to house arrest in 1567. Shortly thereafter both Don Carlo and Philip's young queen, Elisabeth, died, giving rise to stories that Philip had them killed because they were lovers. Friedrich Schiller's 19th century tragedy, which was given a dynamic production in 2001 at The Evidence Room, is based on these events. A secondary theme used by both Schiller and Verdi involves the attempts of Don Carlo and his friend, the Marquis de Posa, to help free the Protestant Flemish states from tyrannical Spanish Catholic domination.

The opera opens and closes with the towering spectral figure of a monk whose image is echoed in John Gunter's set design, particularly in the second act when a giant crucifix drops from the ceiling and then hangs at a slant over the stage. Beneath it the half-naked figures of the victims of the Spanish Inquisition's Auto De Fe (death by fire) whip themselves on their way to the stake. The sets are blood red with murals of bloody saints and martyrs.

The Grand Inquisitor, depicted as a blind man wearing dark glasses, is the spirit of rigid fundamentalism. He not only controls King Philip of Spain but becomes the crutch and excuse Philip gives for disposing of the son he fears.

In both play and opera, King Philip emerges as the most mesmerizing and powerful figure, maybe because there is only so far you can go with young rebels. Philip sees his empire threatened by these hotheads and, in any case, "hates innovation" as noted in the superb superscript done by David Anglin. Philip is sung superbly here by Ferruccio Furlanetto, a subtle actor with imposing stage presence, visibly wrestling with the painful political and personal issues raised.

Salvatore Licitra brings passion and his superb tenor to Don Carlo, augmented by the dignity of baritone Lado Ataneli as Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa. Annalisa Raspagliosi displays her versatility in the demanding arias of Elisabeth and Dolora Zajick as Countess Eboli demonstrates her expertise in the specialized realm of a Verdi mezzo-soprano. Bass Eric Halfvarson holds his own vocally and dramatically as the eerie Grand Inquisitor.

Verdi's music is rich in trios, duets and even the lilting Veil Song, in which the Countess leads a chorus of girls with parasols and roses. He is at his most powerful in crowd scenes which enable him to paint the stage with the choral music as spine-tingling as the hideous religious auto de fes.

Since there is no furniture, Director Ian Judge occasionally has Don Carlo lie down on the stage which heightens the suspicion of instability harbored by his father. Costume designer Tim Goodchild has alleviated the traditional black court costumes of the period with glittering jet, gold chains, varied and superbly simple cuts. Against the red sets, subtly rinsed by Duane Schuler's lighting design, they're much more than basic black. Verdi's opera is well served by this new production, which is sure to be a landmark both visually and vocally.

Editor's Note: To read a review of the Evidence Room revival mentioned above go here.

Composer: Giuseepe Verdi
Conductor: James Conlon
Director: Ian Judge
Cast: James Creswell (A Monk), Salvatore Licitra (Don Carlo), Lado Ataneli (Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa), Lauren McNeeese (Tebaldo, A Page), Dolora Zajick (Princess Eboli), Annalisa Raspagliosi (Elisabeth de Valois), Ferruccio Furlanetto (King Philip II), David Lomeli (Count Lerma), Hanan Alattar (A Celestial Voice), Eric Halfvarson (The Grand Inquisitor).
Choreiographer: Kitty McNamee
Set Design: John Gunter
Lighting Design: Duane Schuler
Costume Design: Tim Goodchild
Los Angeles Opera Chorus Master: William Vendice
Running Time: Three hours thirty minutes with one intermission
Running Dates: September 10-October 1, 2006
Where: Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Music Center, 135 North Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, Reservations: (213) 972-8001.
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on September 10.
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