Verdi wrote an opera lover's dream, and Austin Lyric Opera realized it with an all-star cast
Reviewed by Natalie Zeldin, Fri., Nov. 29, 2013
Don CarloDell Hall at the Long Center, 701 W. Riverside
Verdi sure knew how to pack a punch. His Don Carlo, based on Friedrich Schiller's play about love and politics in 16th century Spain, is an opera lover's dream, bursting at the seams with complex philosophical tensions, powerfully effusive music, charismatic characters, and, most importantly, a resounding and pulsating heartbeat.
For this production, Austin Lyric Opera recruited an all-star cast across the board. Some of the strongest energy came from Michael Chioldi's Rodrigo and James Valenti's Don Carlo, a beautiful bromance cemented at the end of the first act with their impassioned duet "Dio, Che Nell'alma Infondere Amor." The strength of this relationship was consistently vital, serving as an important thread throughout the opera. Chioldi's voice was especially expansive, projecting the spirit of the character. Valenti sang with great polish but seemed somehow less engaged with his character, void of the Hamlet-like pathos that would have really helped to fill out the role.
The leading women were fantastic. As Princess Eboli, Mary Phillips used her voice to its fullest dramatic potential; she was not afraid to invoke some grit to project visceral heartbreak. Still, the most powerful moments came in the final act, as the resigned Elisabetta (Keri Alkema) sang the evocative "Tu Che le Vanità," an aria in which she wishes for her death. Alkema spun out long phrases of a shimmering, golden tone, suspending the softest notes in the air with incredible control that drew the audience toward the stage, leaning in for more.
This production would have been even stronger with a clearer thematic hierarchy to help delineate this opera's embarrassment of riches. The political tensions in the plot were disappointingly downplayed. The famous auto-da-fé scene, the moments with the Grand Inquisitor, and the public burning of heretics – which have the potential to be haunting – were rather underwhelming. As a result, King Filippo II's complex character was flattened, despite Peter Volpe's compellingly creamy voice.
In fairness, though, Don Carlo is notoriously difficult to pull off. Since its 1867 Paris premiere, the opera has seen numerous versions of varying lengths, both in Italian and French, with Verdi himself editing and re-editing it several times. Even so, there's clearly a powerful substance at the opera's core, and it's hard to complain about three-and-a-half hours of mellifluous sound. If ALO was set on performing one of Verdi's operas