Opera Warhorses

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Review: A Second Look – “Don Carlo” at the San Francisco Opera, June 18, 2016

June 26th, 2016

In my review of the opening performance of San Francisco Opera’s 2016 mounting of Verdi’s “Don Carlo” [see Review: A Legendary Performance of “Don Carlo” at the San Francisco Opera, June 12, 2016], I had praised the cast, conductor and orchestra, suggesting it was one of the most deeply cast and moving performances of the work in San Francisco Opera history.

[Below: Crown Prince Don Carlo (Michael Fabiano, left) and Elisabetta di Valois (Ana Maria Martinez, right) retain strong feelings for each other, even though she, as the new Queen, becomes his stepmother; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

SF DON CARLO (400) FABIANO MARTINEZ

Having attended the third (June 18th) of the production’s six scheduled performances, my assessment remained the same – that the performances by New Jersey tenor Michael Fabiano, Puerto Rican soprano Ana Maria Martinez, Polish baritone Marius Kwiecien, German basso Rene Pape, and Italian-born American basso Andrea Silvestrelli deserved the highest praise.

My assessment of the debut performance of Bulgarian mezzo-soprano was also very positive. However, I found this, her third performance in the role at San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House, to be even stronger than the first, her bright coloratura more evident in the veil song in the scene that introduces her character, her dramatic power more evident as the opera progresses.

[Below: the Princess Eboli (Nadia Krasteva, right) whose romantic advances to Don Carlo (Michael Fabiano, left) have been spurned, draws a sword on him in anger; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

SF DON CARLO (425) KRASTEVA FABIANO

This review of a second  “Don Carlo” performance whose cast has not changed, is an opportunity to devote time to Sagi’s production, to the ultimate source of Verdi’s opera – the fertile mind of German poet, dramatist, historian and philosopher Friedrich Schiller, and to its place among the final three operas of the tenure of retiring San Francisco Opera general director David Gockley.

Emilio Sagi’s Production

San Francisco Opera’s production of Verdi’s “Don Carlo” was conceived and directed by Spanish director Emilio Sagi in 1998, with sets by Zack Brown (Sagi’s collaborator also for an elegant Washington National Opera production of Verdi’s “Otello” seen here at the San Francisco Opera in 2002). The Sagi “Don Carlo” production was last mounted in 2003 (directed by Gina Lapinski) in the original French version.

The production (utilizing the Italian Modena version of the opera) effectively conveys a sense of both the elegance and the oppressiveness of the Spanish royal court while allowing fluidity of dramatic action.

The basic set consists of a front grill dressed in a Spanish style that descends at various times, sometimes representing the exterior of a monastery and sometimes an interior of an official building.

A movable structure. that can be wheeled into place, often frames the back of the stage. Director Sagi uses the structure’s top walkway for the first act royal procession.

Significantly, in the scene at the Atocha Cathedral, Sagi uses this space above the auto da fe, for the Grand Inquisitor’s appearance (even though Verdi’s opera does not call for him to appear in the scene).

[Below: the Grand Inquisitor (Andrea Silvestrelli, center, at top of photograph), surrounded by his cardinals, hovers above King Philip (Rene Pape, bottowm of photo, left center); edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

SF DON CARLO (400) INQUISITOR

Merely through the Grand Inquisitor’s “behind-the-scenes” presence, Sagi remind us that the authoritarian Spanish church controls that grisly ceremony, as it does all aspects of royal court and the Spanish empire.

Particularly striking in the auto da fe scene is the burning at the stake of three penitential heretics is represented by the body of each penitent being raised upward as a Heavenly Voice (in this production soprano Toni Marie Palmertree) announces their acceptance into heaven as Silvestrelli’s blind Grand Inquisitor listens ominously from his vantage point above the crowds.

[Below: the Zack Brown sets for the royal gardens covered by the representation of a canopy; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

SF DON CARLO (425) ROYAL GARDEN

Friedrich Schiller’s Influence on Opera

The German historian-dramatist Friedrich Schiller’s works were a strong influence on 19th century opera.

Schiller was a strong proponent of “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” and an admirer of the American Revolution and was despondent about the excesses of the French Revolution. The opera composers attracted to Schiller’s plays were concerned with authoritarian states arbitrary uses of state power to suppress individual liberty.

This remains a lively subject in the 21st century. I believe that the political and dramatic content of Schiller’w work should still resonate with opera audiences today.

At the beginning of San Francisco Opera’s 2015-16 season, I wrote of the continued relevance to our present day of Friedrich Schiller’s Kabale und Liebe, the work on which the company’s 2015 opening night opera, Verdi’s “Luisa Miller” is based. [see Review: Michael Fabiano’s Star Ascends in Verdi’s “Luisa Miller” – San Francisco Opera, September 11, 2015.] That work takes aim at the destruction of individual liberties by the authoritarian state.

Even more relevant to current times is Schiller’s Don Carlos, the lengthy play that inspired Verdi’s “Don Carlo”. Its scathing indictment of totalitarian thought control, as exemplified by the Spanish Inquisition and the suppression of Flanders, provided Verdi with some of his most inspired operatic scenes.

[Below: Rodrigo, Duke of Posa (Mariusz Kweicien, right) suggests that Don Carlo (Michael Fabiano, left) champion the cause of the suppressed people of Flanders; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

SF DON CARLO (425) FABIANO KWIECIEN

“Luisa Miller” and “Don Carlos”, of course, are not the only operas that are based on a Schiller work. The San Francisco Opera has also performed Rossini’s “William Tell”, Donizetti’s “Maria Stuarda” and Tchaikovsky’s “Maid of Orleans” all ultimately derived from Schiller’s brilliant mind.

Some of Schiller’s influence on opera is more indirect. I don’t believe it possible to really understand all that is happening in Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino” without having a sense of how Schiller’s Wallenstein influenced it.

Famously, Puccini’s “Turandot”,  is not directly based on Gozzi’s original play, but on Maffei’s translation of Schiller’s extensive reworking of what Gozzi wrote. For example, Puccini’s Ping, Pang and Pong, inspired by Schiller’s reconcieved commedia dell’arte characters, express a realistic and thoughtful view of the failings of Turandot’s authoritarian state, that would not have occurred to their empty-headed equivalents in Gozzi’s play.

There are two important Schiller-derived Verdi works that have not yet been mounted at the San Francisco Opera – “I Masnadieri”, based on Schiller’s first great success, “The Robbers” and “Giovanna d’Arco”, Verdi’s version of Schiller’s “Maid of Orleans”. (I have seen San Diego Opera performances of “Masnadieri” with Joan Sutherland and “Giovanna d’Arco” with Adriana Maliponte and Luis Lima.)

I can envision each of these works in newly rethought productions on the War Memorial Opera House stage.

Thoughts on the Final Three Gockley Offerings

San Francisco Opera general director David Gockley, upon his arrival at the beginning of calendar year 2006, pledged to restore the company’s reputation for world-class performances by great operatic artists.

He achieved that goal, not by concentrating the company’s resources on “name” European stars (although some did appear), but on fostering the careers of North American artists. Unlike the immediate postwar years of the mid-20th century, North American artists of international rank abound, and their presence has enriched the “Gockley decade”.

The San Francisco Opera summer season was the occasion for the return of two European directors, Sagi and French director Olivier Tambosi, both who worked previously during the “Gockley era”.

The two mountings of Sagi’s “Don Carlo” took place under the administrations of Gockley’s two predecessors, but Sagi did create a new production for Gockley [See Lucas Meachem, Javier Camarena and Isabel Leonard Romp in Sagi’s Sprightly New “Barber of Seville” – San Francisco Opera, November 13, 2013.]

Tambosi directed productions of Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut”, Verdi’s “Falstaff” and Janacek’s “Makrapulos Case” in addition to this season’s “Jenufa” [See Review: A Beautifully Performed “Jenufa” by Byström, Mattila and Burden, San Francisco Opera, June 19, 2016.]

The summer was also the occasion for a new San Francisco Opera production based on the work of the sometimes controversial Spanish director, Calixto Bielto [See Review: A Spanish “Carmen” from Calixto Bielto, May 28, 2016.]

The three productions shared dramatic intensity, and, particularly in the Verdi and Janacek, unsurpassed vocal performances. They were altogether symbolic of the progress that San Francisco Opera achieved during a decade by David Gockley.

 

 

 

 

 

Tags: 2005-2016: William's Reviews

Review: A Beautifully Performed “Jenufa” by Byström, Mattila and Burden, San Francisco Opera, June 19, 2016

June 21st, 2016

As the last production overseen by the San Francisco Opera’s retiring General Director David Gockley, the company mounted Czech composer Leoš Janácek’s lushly melodic, highly dramatic, masterpiece “Jenufa”.

Malin Byström’s Jenufa

Swedish soprano Malin Byström, in her San Francisco Opera debut role, was a moving Jenufa. She gave an affecting vocal performance, displaying mastery of the high tessitura of the role.

Byström’s Jenufa, convincingly conveyed the emotional reactions of a woman who suffers a series of deeply hurtful crises – the hostility of Steva, the village ne’er do well who has impregnated her; the accidental mutilation of her face from her ardent suitor Laca; the mysterious death of her newborn son; and the eventual revelation that it was her stepmother Kostelnicka who killed the infant to save Jenufa from “shame”.

[Below: Malin Byström as Jenufa; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

SF JENUFA (400) BYLSTROM

Karita Mattila’s Kostelnicka

Finnish soprano Karita Mattila was strikingly effective in the role of Jenufa’s stepmother Kostelnicka, whose horror of being judged by the small community is such an obsession that it leads her to infanticide.

[Below: Karita Mattila as Kostelnicka Buryjovka; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

SF JENUFA (400) KOSTELNICKA

It is rare for an operatic character like Kostelnicka to gain audience sympathy, but Janacek’s music, the unforgettable vocal power and dramatic intensity of Mattila’s performance, and the redemptive quality of Kostelnicka’s stepdaughter Jenufa’s expression of empathy (though not forgiveness) are transformative.

Mattila’s monologue and her final duet with Byström, were in a special class of operatic excellence. Always dramatically effective in any part she assays [Review: Houston “Walküre” Showcases Christine Goerke’s Astonishing Brünnhilde, Karita Mattila’s Stunning Sieglinde – Houston Grand Opera, April 25, 2015], Mattila’s Kostelnicka deserves to be remembered as one the great performances in San Francisco Opera history.

William Burden’s Laca

The male leads in “Jenufa” are hardly romantic heroes. New Jersey tenor William Burden sang the part of Laca, who Jenufa ultimately agrees to marry, even though Laca has accidentally slashed her face, leaving a permanent scar.

Burden, in his role debut, gave one of the finest vocal and dramatic performance that I’ve yet heard from an artist, whose previous work I have long admired.  Burden’s Laca was an extraordinary characterization, an impressive addition to his repertory of operatic roles.

Laca’s heartfelt expression of love in the opera’s final scene is one of the most beautiful passages in all of opera, which Burden sang memorably.

[Below: William Burden as Laca Klemen; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

SF JENUFA (400) BURDEN

In the past few months alone I have reviewed Burden’s roles from dramatic bel canto [see Review: New Orleans Opera’s Spectacular “Lucia di Lammermoor” with Laura Claycomb, William Burden – March 15, 2015] to classical period comedy [Review: “La Finta Giardiniera”: Madcap Mozart at the Santa Fe Opera – July 29, 2015.

Scott Quinn’s Števa

Texas tenor Scott Quinn, in his San Francisco Opera debut role, plays the devil-may-care, but weak-willed Števa, whose ribald entrance with his beer-sotted friends is one of the many brilliant highlights of Janacek’s score.

Director Tambosi and dance master Lawrence Pech have given Quinn’s Steva complex movements that plausibly mimic drunken Moravian folk dancing. Well-sung and well acted, Quinn’s Steva is a nicely conceived portrait of a ultimately dislikable character.

[Below: Scott Quinn as Steva Buryja; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

SF JENUFA (400) QUINN

I had reported on Quinn’s humorous performance as the charlatan barber Pirelli in Houston [see Review: “Sweeney Todd” at Houston Grand Opera: Nathan Gunn, Director Lee Blakeley Make a Compelling Case for Sondheim as Opera, April 24, 2015], which provides evidence of Quinn’s ability to portray markedly different operatic roles.

Jill Grove’s Grandmother Buryjovka and Other Cast Members

Previous appearances by Jill Grove in San Francisco during the past decade have been few, although her acccomplishments at other companies are well-regarded [see, for example, her Jezibaba Review: Powerful Performances by Martinez, Jagde in “Rusalka” – Houston Grand Opera, January 29, 2016]. Her secure lower register and affecting duets with Byström’s Jenufa were especially noteworthy.

[Below: Jenufa (Malin Byström, left) seeks comfort from Grandmother Buryjovka (Jill Grove); edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

SF JENUFA (425) W GRANDMOTHER

Basso Matthew Stump was excellent as the Foreman at the mill, bass-baritone Anthony Reed as the Mayor of the Village. Toni Marie Palmertree was Barena, Julie Adams was Karolka, Zanda  Švede was the Mayor’s Wife and Buffy Baggot was Kostelnicka’s aunt. Angela Moser and Torlef Borsting rounded out the cast.

Olivier Tambosi’s Direction and Frank Philipp Schlössmann’s Sets

Parisian director Olivier Tambosi’s production is from the Hamburg State Opera. It emphasizes the stifling of individuality that can occur in a small rural community such as here in Moravia. It is a theme that recurs in such operas as the Wartburg of Wagner’s “Tannhauser” or the New Hope Valley of Floyd’s “Susannah”.

Schlössmann’s sets, dominated by a large boulder in the second act and less obtrusive rock formations in the first and third, were designed to symbolize the stultifying and oppressive effects of the village’s reaction to signs of non-conformity in its inhabitants. Rock metaphors, in fact, occur in the libretto.

The village’s chief economic enterprise is the Buryja mill, so that vertical wood planking framing the scenes is another reference to the mill village’s closed community.

[Below: Jenufa (Malin Bystrom, left center) has been hidden from the village during the full term of her pregnancy, represented symbolically by the large boulder at center stage; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

SF JENUFA (425) ROCK AND SNOW

This is the third occasion at the San Francisco Opera in which Olivier Tambosi has directed a Karita Mattila performance [See World Class “Manon Lescaut” – S. F. Opera November 19, 2006  and [see Brilliant Belohlavek Conducts Mattila’s Masterful “Makropulos” – San Francisco Opera, November 28, 2010], the latter with Maestro Beholavek.

Each of Mattila’s roles directed by Tambosi I regard as among the most distinguished performances at San Francisco Opera during the decade of San Francisco Opera’s “Gockley era”.

[Below: Kostelnicka (Karita Mattila, right, dressed in black) has told Jenufa (Malin Byström, dressed in blue) that her child has died; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

SF JENUFA (400) MATTILA BYSTROM

Maestro Jirí Belohlávek and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus

Maestro Jirí Belohlávek presided over Janacek’s musically complex score.

The San Francisco Opera Orchestra played beautifully both in ensemble and in the several parts of the score in which virtuoso performances by individual instrumentalists were evident. Particularly noteworthy were the affecting solos of Concertmeister Kay Stern.

[Below: Jenufa (Malin Byström, center front, right) chugs a beer as Laca (William Burden, center front, left) looks on in distress and the drunken Steva (Scott Quinn, front, far right) has collapsed; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

SF JENUFA (425) CAROUSING

Janacek in the Far West

By what seems to be a happy coincidence of separate decision by opera companies on the Pacific Coast, one has the opportunity to see all four of Janacek’s most often performed operas – “Jenufa”, Makropulos Case”, “Katya Kabanova” and “The Cunning Little Vixen” – in live performance by Pacific Coast opera companies in over the next several months.

Besides San Francisco Opera’s June 2016 performances of “Jenufa”, the company performs “The Makropulos Case” (again with Burden) beginning in October and the Seattle Opera mounts “Kabanova” beginning in February 2017. “Vixen” will be performed by both the West Edge Opera in Oakland (July and August 2016) and by the Santa Barbara Opera in March 2017.

[Below: Laca (William Burden, standing) and Jenufa (Malin Bystrom, kneeling) have become reconciled and have agreed to marry; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

SF JENUFA (400) LACA JENUFA WEDDING

Recommendation

I recommend the “Jenufa” cast and production, performed by the San Francisco Opera, enthusiastically, for both the opera veteran and the person new to opera.

Tags: 2005-2016: William's Reviews

Review: A Legendary Performance of “Don Carlo” at the San Francisco Opera, June 12, 2016

June 14th, 2016

Experienced San Francisco Opera subscribers know when they’ve seen a performance so superb that it will be long-remembered. Such a performance was the lavishly cast production of Verdi’s “Don Carlo”, in which every member of a stellar ensemble contributed to an opera that deserved to be called “grand”.

Michael Fabiano’s Don Carlo

The opera’s title role was assumed by tenor Michael Fabiano in his role debut.

In an opera filled with attention-drawing characters – the King, the Queen, the Marquis of Posa, the Princess Eboli, the Grand Inquisitor – Fabiano’s Don Carlo was a dominant presence, an ardent exemplar of great Verdian singing. His voice displayed the range of emotions, with a control and subletly we associate with great lyric tenors, while calling forth the spinto power where appropriate.

[Below: Michael Fabiano as Don Carlo; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

SF DON CARLO (400) FABIANO

Fabiano has acknowledged the importance to his career, when, at age 27, he debuted to great acclaim at San Francisco Opera [see my review at Fleming, Fabiano, Frizza Fuel San Francisco Opera’s Flaming, Fulfilling First “Lucrezia Borgia” – September 23, 2011].

San Francisco Opera’s General Director Gockley and Musical Director Luisotti showed early confidence in the youthful Fabiano, now sought after by the world’s leading opera houses [see  Review: A “Rigoletto” Surprise in Paris: Ludovic Tézier Subs in Title Role in Claus Guth’s Production with Fabiano, Peretyatko, Luisotti – May 5, 2016].

Ana María Martínez’ Queen Elizabeth of Valois

Puerto Rico soprano Ana María Martínez was imposing as Elizabeth of Valois, Spain’s conflicted queen. Martínez embodied both elegance and suppressed passion throughout the early acts.

No performance as Elizabeth can be judged until the artist sings her final act aria Tu che la vanita, conoscesti del mondo, one of the great showpieces of the Italian opera repertory.

Martínez’ delivery of the aria was electrifying. She attacked it with the dramatic intensity one associates with a Verdian dramatic soprano – with a ferocity that I had not heard from Martinez before – while retaining the lyric beauty I associate with her voice.

[Below: Ana Maria Martínez as Queen Elisabetta di Valois; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

SF DON CARLO (400) MARTINEZ

This is my third report on Martínez’ performances this year [see Review: Powerful Performances by Martinez, Jagde in “Rusalka” – Houston Grand Opera, January 29, 2016 and Review: An Exciting, Moving “Madame Butterfly” – Los Angeles Opera, March 12, 2016.]

Marius Kwiecien’s Rodrigo, Duke of Posa

One of the great singing-acting opera stars of our time, Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien, absent from the San Francisco Opera for nearly a decade, was an astonishing Posa. His voice has a vocal flexibility rarely associated with baritones, including the ability to trill – a skill he used (and Verdi calls for) in two different acts of the opera.

[Below: Marius Kwiecien as Rodrigo, Duke of Posa; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.  

SF DON CARLO (400) KWIECIEN POSA

When Kwiecien’s Posa and Fabiano’s Carlo sang together, the effect was magical. Their sentimental anthem Dio che nell’alma in fondere amor was greeted by tumultuous applause from the sold-out War Memorial Opera House audience.

Part of the beautifully sung final scene between Fabiano and Kwiecien, Posa’s aria Io morro, ma lieto in core, sung while dying in Don Carlo’s arms, will be a lasting memory.

[Below: The dying Rodrigo, Duke of Posa (Mariusz Kwiecien, left) expreses his wish that Don Carlo (Michael Fabiano, right) continue the fight for the people of Flanders; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

SF DON CARLO (425) FABIANO KWIECIEN POSAS DEATH

René Pape’s King Philip II and Andrea Silvestrelli’s Grand Inquisitor

One of the highlights of the Italian basso repertory is singing the role of King Philip, who has one of opera’s most mesmerizing monologues, in which he bemoans his failing marriage and his inability as sovereign to control events, followed by the chilling duet with the Grand Inquisitor.

[Below: René Pape as King Philip Second; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.    

SF DON CARLO (400) PAPE KING

Pape appeared in two less stellar roles at the San Francisco Opera 15 seasons ago, but I suspect that most of the present San Francisco audience had not seen him before in live performance. Pape, at the height of his vocal and dramatic powers, authoritatively portrayed the careworn Spanish emperor.

Italian-b0rn American basso Andrea Silvestrelli was an extraordinarily menacing Grand Inquisitor, arguably the biggest voice of any of the artists that have assumed the role (the opera was first heard at the San Francisco company in 1958.) The duet between Pape and Silvestrelli was among the performances many high points.

Nadia Krasteva’s Eboli

Bulgarian mezzo-soprano Nadia Krasteva was a creditable Princess Eboli, integrating the light and dark elements of this challenging role.

The light elements include the early act coloratura Veil Song and the contrasting dark parts include the highly dramatic aria O don fatale near the opera’s end, each of which Krasteva dispatched effectively – the result a beguiling presentation of a meddlesome character.

[Below: Nadia Krasteva as the Princess Eboli; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.  

SF DON CARLO (400) KRASTEVA

This was Krasteva’s San Francisco Opera debut, although she has appeared in successful efforts as Carmen and Dalila elsewhere in the Central and Western United States [see my reviews at Krasteva, Jovanovich Sizzle in Chicago “Carmen” – Lyric Opera, March 15, 2011 and San Diego Opera Offers Saint-Saens’ Sensuous “Samson and Delilah” – February 16, 2013.]

Maestro Nicola Luisotti, the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and the Modena Edition of “Don Carlo”

San Francisco Opera’s music director Nicola Luisotti led the San Francisco Opera Orchestra in a superb performance of Verdi’s score. The score abounds in instrumental solos, each of which was skillfully done, displaying the depth of talent possessed by the San Francisco Opera Orchestra.

In two previous seasons, including 2003, the San Francisco Opera performed the opera in French (in the five act version including an opening Fontainbleu scene)

A “new” performing edition, in French, was well-received in Houston. [See my review at Brandon Jovanovich Triumphant in Historic “Don Carlos” Production – Houston Grand Opera, April 13, 2012.] That edition restored extensive cuts to the Fontainbleu scene made just before the opera’s 1867 Parisian premiere.

Luisotti used the 1886 Modena edition of “Don Carlo”, which includes the opening Fontainbleu scene, traditionally cut from the four act version which prevailed in early and mid-20th century performances of the opera. The opera was performed in Italian.

Luisotti writes of his strong preference for the Modena edition. Verdi himself, as Luisotti points out, had approved the Modena edition, in Italian. Luisotti regarded Verdi’s final thoughts on how the opera should be performed  as compelling.

Other Cast and Crew Members

Chinese soprano Nian Wang was impressive as the page Tebaldo. Indiana bass-baritone Matthew Stump, effectively portrayed a mysterious monk, whom we know represents either the living ex-emperor Charles V or his ghost. Pennsylvania soprano Toni Marie Palmertree was the Celestial Voice.

The small role of Count Lerma was the occasion for the San Francisco Opera debut of Pene Pati, a Samoan-born New Zealand tenor, who is a current Adler fellow already destined for major roles in the future [he is scheduled to be the Duke of Mantua in San Francisco Opera’s production of Verdi’s “Rigoletto” in Summer 2017].

Lerma is the also the role in which William Burden, who is Laca in Summer 2016’s production of Janacek’s “Jenufa”, made his San Francisco Opera debut.

Emilio Sagi’s production

The Emilio Sagi production, utilizing New York designer Zack Brown’s sets, was previously seen in San Francisco in 1998 and 2003.

“Don Carlo” abounds in dramatic energy and psychological depth. Its pageantry contrasts with the chilling burning of heretics auto da fe scene. The heretics’ martyrdom is represented by three victims wearing sanbenitos (penitential headgear that might remind one of “dunce caps”) who are hoisted up in front of a red curtain as if their souls are released to heaven from their burning bodies.

[Below: the Emilio Sagi production, with Zack Brown’s sets; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

SF DON CARLO (425) AUTO DA FE

This is the first of two performances I am scheduled to review. In my second review, I will discuss the Sagi production further, as well as the relevance of the opera and Friedrich Schiller’s work on which it was based to the current day.

Recommendation

I recommend the opera, cast, musical performance and production enthusiastically, both for the veteran operagoer and the person new to opera.

Tags: 2005-2016: William's Reviews