After my French baroque trip in Zurich for Medee, I decided to go to Milan and see Don Carlo at La Scala. It was a very sudden and maybe not-so-wise decision (I’m getting old, all this travelling is not exactly healthy I’m afraid) but I’m very happy I did.
The production, by Peter Stein, had been already seen in Salzburg. It is pretty traditional, with the right kind of costumes, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. The version performed was the 5 act version in Italian, with all the bits and pieces and no cuts, we even got a conversation between Elisabetta and the people in the first act that I had no idea it was there. As usual, at La Scala, there was a ridiculous number of intervals (three), so the result was an afternoon of Wagnerian length. The Autodafè scene was very effective. The parade included emissaries from all the peoples in the Spanish empire at the time: Native Americans, Incas, Maya, all with traditional costumes. Kind of naive, but very entertaining. The fire was not real, only projected, but the scene was gloomy and pretty strong.
The orchestra and the chorus at La Scala are magnificent! It’s not a big surprise, I know, but they really are amazing. The conductor was Myung-whun Chung, who has a strong reputation, and I can say that it is well deserved. His tempi were simply perfect, and he unleashed the orchestra in all the right moments, to sweep us away with a glorious sound. The chorus was perfect, always at tempo, always crisp and precise.
Elisabetta di Valois was Krassimira Stoyanova, who I had never heard live before, and I liked her a lot. Her timbre is absolutely fantastic, smooth and beautiful. Her voice blooms in high notes strong and always round, she is never shrill, or screaming, her voice is constantly well set and supported and beautiful. She never shows her Slavic origin: the metal in her voice is always of the good kind. Her lower register is incredibly strong, and still set exactly in the same place as her wonderful high notes. What she lacks is some projection, and some “edge”: her attacks are always smooth, she never “hits” a note, not even when, honestly, she should. A typical example is the attack on Tu che le vanità, where the first not should be hit with some force and desperation, and, instead, she blooms into it, and you don’t really hear the “T”. The emotions she convey are always heartfelt, they make your heart swell, she is never bitter or angry or truly desperate. But, man, what a voice.
Don Carlo was Francesco Meli, a veteran at La Scala, who is the perfect embodiment of an Italian tenor, a good one, I mean. I had already heard him in Macbeth, in Stockholm, and I had enjoyed his voice. Last night it was even better, I have to say. His voice has kind of the opposite pros and cons of Stoyanova’s: he has an amazing projection, and can hit high notes with power and strength. He may lack some uniformity and sophistication; the emotions he conveys are always Mediterranean, extreme and a bit unrefined. Overall, he did a fantastic job, and hit all the right buttons with the audience, who cheered him with extreme warmth.
Simone Piazzola sang the role of Rodrigo, Don Carlo’s friend. I had already heard him in La forza del destino in Munich, and I had judged him lacking in charisma. This impression was confirmed: his voice is beautiful, he sings well, but somehow he’s not very interesting. Still, his death scene was very moving and very well performed, for example.
Ferruccio Furlanetto, who was supposed to sing Filippo II, was ill, so we got a luxurious replacement, no less than Ildar Abdrazakov! I adore his voice: strong, powerful, extremely precise, and great charisma. He’s one of those singers who, when he’s on stage, it’s hard to look anywhere else. He’s a bit young for Filippo II, but his interpretation was convincing and moving. His anger and disdain at his wife and his son were delivered with arrogance and harshness, while his musings in Ella giammai m’amò were sweet and he managed to show true vulnerability. A great performance.
Eboli was Ekaterina Semenchuk, also a first time for me, I liked her very much. Her voice is much more clearly Slavic than Stoyanova’s, but she has great technique, and manages a uniformity of timbre which is truly remarkable. Her high notes are as powerful as the center of her voice. I would love to hear her Azucena, or Amneris.
The character of the Great Inquisitor doesn’t sing much, in Don Carlo, but he has one of the most amazing parts that Verdi has written: the duet with Filippo II is absolutely stunning, from a musical point of view. Eric Halfvarson has a strong voice, and his interpretation was memorable; he managed to be terrifying and, at the same time, extremely fragile in his blindness and old age.
The other “minor” characters were all strongly casted, even the Flemish delegates.
I had an amazing time, Don Carlo is maybe my favourite Verdi’s opera, and this production was wonderful!