Don Carlos 2

On Saturday to Opera Australia’s Don Carlos for the second time.

I sat closer, which for me is much better.

There were still some noticeable patches of emptiness in the circle. Is it the work (a bit obscure) or the price which is the problem? It could of course be the length which bodes a late finish – the last performance, which is a matinee starting at noon, is sold out in the circle.

Because I don’t buy a program at the opera or regularly read press releases, the big news from sitting up close was the appearance, which I now see is the appointment, of Jun Yi Ma as concertmaster of the AOBO. He has also been appointed artistic advisor. This must be a FIFO role as he remains concertmaster of the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra.

I wonder how this works exactly. As well as a separate concert-master’s entrance, Ma made a separate exit at the end – something I don’t recall seeing previous leaders doing. Maybe he has a plane to catch. (Obviously not literally unless he leaves after curfew by private jet.) At least the current and likely to continue abbreviation of the OA Sydney season will reduce the demands on his availability. There’s a silver lining in everything provided you can find the right perspective.

When Don Carlos was first heard in Paris people spoke of Verdi going down the path of Wagner. In many ways this is simply ridiculous, but you can see what they were reacting to, especially in the relatively heavy and dark orchestral textures. The most famous example of this is the scene between Philip and the Grand Inquisitor but there is a mood which imbues the whole piece which is a counterpart to what has sometimes been called (defensively, usually to dismiss it) the “black legend” of Spain, which at the point of the events of this drama coincided with the still-being-shaken-off-Italy rule of the Hapsburgs.

The exact contribution the concertmaster makes is always a bit of a mystery to me.  Whatever Ma’s particular contribution  was  the orchestra was in fine and augmented form. Things must get pretty loud down in that concrete pit and I spotted some players putting in ear-plugs from time to time. It is always good to spot a cimbasso. I felt a bit sorry for the violas, who were squeezed as far back in the pit as I have ever seen them.  The banda was put in a box above one the loges, the angelic voice and accompaniment on the opposite side.

Ferruccio Furlanetto as Philip is the biggest treat in the cast. I’m sure OA will be tempted to put him up for a Helpmann, though in my opinion the use of Helpmanns to give gongs to touring acts or performers is to be deprecated. It’s a bit like knighting Prince Philip. I’m warming to Diego Torres in the title role. As Elizabeth, Lationa Moore sings with vocal amplitude though she risked overpowering the others in the quartet. “Don fatale” was a bit of a stretch at the top for Milijana Nikolic as Princess Eboli. If she could risk breaking her legato line with a few more consonants I think she would be even better.

The one scene which still mystified me a bit was the early part of Act I (in the score Act II because of the missing French Act I) scene ii with the Princess Eboli and the other ladies before Elisabeth arrives ready for Rodrigo to pass her the note from Carlos. It doesn’t really advance the plot much and is more of a foil for the rest of the action.  I suppose in a way it is a bit of a filler – the plot can’t get moving too quickly straight away. The ladies chorus seemed rather listless and half-hearted at the outset. Couldn’t they sing a bit louder? Or was the point meant to be to indicate a kind of sterile decorum? If so I would rather that were not taken out on the music.

There is spectacle in the auto-da-fé scene though why a bunch of nuns sported actual spectacles eludes me – perhaps someone in the artistic team went to a convent school.

I knew it was coming but I still jumped when Rodrigo/Posa was shot.

I’m going again next Saturday so this isn’t the last word.

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