Monday, July 22, 2013

Don Carlos at Caramoor

Will Crutchfield
Once again I had the pleasure of venturing up to Caramoor with my BFF BS for some wonderfully conceived and performed opera in concert. On Saturday, July 20, I heard with delight Caramoor's production of Mr. Verdi's Don Carlos, performed en français (hence the s in the name). (French libretto is by Joseph Méry and Camille du Locle.)

Performance versions (or version control, as technology people might say) are quite the topic of discussion where Don Carlo(s) is concerned! In addition to the original 1867 Paris version, there is the 1884 version in Italian translation with which we are most familiar (which includes revisions by Mr. Verdi, including the removal of the first act from the five-act version), as well as various other authorized and unauthorized versions in Italian and French. In his excellent program notes Will Crutchfield, Director of Opera at Caramoor, took great pains to make clear the 1884 version is an Italian translation, and there is no "Italian version".  All of Verdi's composition for Don Carlo(s) was to the original French text. The version performed at Caramoor is most closely aligned to the 1884 La Scala version, but in the original French. (As with most operas by highly skilled composers for the voice, the original language is much more singable than even very well executed translations.)

Stephen Powell
Photo: Christian Pollard
I hied me and BS to Caramoor early to hear the introductory lectures and concerts presented by Mr. Crutchfield and his guests, musicologist Philip Gossett and writer/scholar Andrew Porter (both of whom deserve sainthood for their lifelong work on Italian opera), and the Caramoor Bel Canto Young Artists. I regret that we arrived a little late to hear the beginning of the introductory lecture by Messrs. Crutchfield, Gossett, and Porter, but what we heard was a delight for the ears, mind, and soul. The first concert contained extracts of Don Carlo(s) not in today's common repertoire, and the second was comprised of opera excerpts based on Friedrich Schiller, the source of Don Carlo(s). It's impossible to list all the Young Artists who impressed me, but I can not fail to mention once again basses Nicholas Masters and Joseph Beutel, baritone Michael Nyby, and mezzos Sarah Nelson Craft and Jennifer Feinstein as young singers to watch out for, although certainly not the only notable singers among the group. My favorite excerpts included a duet from Nicola Vaccai's Giovanna d'arco sung by Ms. Craft and the lovely Danielle Buonaiuto, as well as a piece from Johan Rudolf Zumsteeg's Maria Stuart. (That's right--German at Caramoor!) There was also a Don Carlos duet between Rodrigue and Philippe that Mr. Verdi himself removed before the Paris premiere, which I quite liked.

Jennifer Check
Photo: Kristin Hoebermann
The opera itself was stunning. From the downbeat Mr. Crutchfield had full command of the Orchestra of St. Lukes, and together they played beautifully. Of the vocal cast, there was not a one who failed to impress. I was completely taken aback by baritone Stephen Powell as Rodrigue and bass Christophoros Stamboglis as Phlippe. Both men are new on my radar, but both sang with such beauty, musicianship, and passion that I hardly know what else to say about them. Mr. Powell's recent and future engagements include Verdi baritone fare such as Germont, Rigoletto, Iago, and even Falstaff. It is with great regret I report I had not heard this young man before. Mr. Stamboglis has equally impressive credits, including Carnegie Hall, the Met, Deutsche Oper am Rhein (Frankfurt), in roles including Enrico VIII in Anna Bolena, Oroveso in Norma, Filippo II in Don Carlo, and both Alidoro and Don Magnifico in La Cenerentola.

Eboli was sung by Jennifer Larmore. Some find her voice a bit light for this role, and at the Met it might be. In this setting I did not find it so. I enjoyed the zest that Ms. Larmore brought to her role, embracing Eboli's apparent mean-girl character but showing Eboli's real remorse upon recognizing how her actions affect others. Never did I hear any suggestion of vocal discomfort, as one might if she were singing a role that doesn't fit her voice. While the football-field size opera houses might not hire Ms. Larmore for this role, I do hope she will sing it often in other theaters, for I think she sang beautifully.

(c) James Valenti
Photo: William Bichara
Don Carlos himself was sung by James Valenti. Mr. Valenti is a fine young singer with a very successful career, and he is also known for his dashing looks. He sang the role of Don Carlos with a great amount of passion and Italianate style. He sang beautifully, in fact, but I don't believe the role is right for him. Don Carlos is sung by spinto tenors--much larger and more dramatic voices than young Mr. Valenti's. Assuming this is Mr. Valenti's first Don Carlos, I'd like to hear his fifth or his tenth.

Jennifer Check was Elisabeth de Valois. Her accomplishments include Lady Macbeth, Norma, Agathe, the Marschallin, Madame Lidoine, and Lady Billows. This is a large voice, and who can tell what even more ambitious roles are in Ms. Check's future? Although an audience favorite, and a singer of great musicianship and skill, Ms. Check's singing to me lacked a warmth at times I wanted to hear.

I would be remiss in my duties if I failed to mention Young Artist Jeffrey Beruan, bass, who sang the monk who reveals himself to be the still living Charles V.

I regret that Caramoor no longer has two or more performances of the operas they produce. I would gladly recommend hearing subsequent performances of this cast and this production.

1 comment:

Lucy said...

Thanks for the report! Stephen Powell was a highlight of NYCO's recent-ish Traviata, and a key player in ASO's recent-ish Schmidt rarity. I'll have to make a note of Stamboglis' name for future reference. It sounds as though Larmore made more of Eboli than many manage.