May 10, 2008

Konwitschny's Don Carlos at the Liceu

Don Carlos
Opéra en 5 actes de Giuseppe Verdi (original version)
Livret de Joseph Méry et Camille du Locle (en français)

Production of Peter Konwitschny
Wiener Staatsoper / Liceu
Premiere in Hamburg in 2001
Premiere in Vienna on Oct.18 2004 (DVD available)
Premiere in Barcelona on Jan.27 2007 (review of the broadcast)
Last performances in Vienna on June 19, 24 and 28, 2008

Don Carlos - Franco Farina
Elisabeth - Adrianne Pieczonka
Princesse Eboli - Sonia Ganassi
Philipe II - Giacomo Prestia
Rodrigue, marquis de Posa - Carlos Alvarez
Le Grand Inquisiteur - Eric Halvarson

Conductor - Maurizio Benini

I. The staging

This was a very controversial production from the beginning, and I do understand why. While the motives of Peter Konwitschny are often appropriate, the aesthetics is rather disconcerting and preposterous.

Eboli's dream (Vienna 2004)

It was indeed a good idea - as this production is build on the integral 5 act version of the opera, including a 20 minute ballet (mandatory for the creation in 1867 in Paris) -, to use the time to a fantasy scene entitled "Eboli's dream" of the perfect suburban life she could have had with Carlos. But Suburbia and XVIth century aren't related in any way, and as Konwitschny chose costumes inspired from the XVIth century for the entire opera, the dream of Ebony ends up being totally awkward. The anachronism just didn't work at all for me (especially this one, where the audience is suddenly submerged into this burlesque movie from the 1960s).

The auto-da-fé scene was the highlight of this production and yet again, I couldn't make the switch from the XVIth to the XXIth-media frenzy century. What definitely didn't help was Carlos wearing a XVIth century dagger under his XXIth century tuxedo.

The moves the singers had to perform were also too exaggerated and I don't like it when the Opera House turns into a circus and the singers into clowns. I really don't.
It's the ultimate pleonasm if you think of it: "look at me, I'm singing I'm miserable because I'm trapped in that relationship, I'm feeling it but in case you still haven't noticed, with the music and all, I'm showing you with wide mimic gestures Konwitschny dug out from old Marcel Marceau's tapes".
It's very condescendent to the audience and I can't really see beyond that.

The set on that production is non-existent, for the most part, and it gets utterly boring in the last two acts. The light designer must have been desperate for something to do in that production, I'm afraid he either died of desolation or boredom, as Konwitschny had no interest whatsoever in that department.

II. The cast

Adrianne Pieczonka

Lots of disappointments there.
Franco Farina was awful as usual (this tenor I especially don't like), with awful high notes and awful diction (see by yourselves how he ruins the most beautiful aria of this opera, the duet with Rodrigue in Act 2, "Dieu, tu semas dans nos âmes"); Giacomo Prestia (Philippe II) abuses of vibratos in hopes nobody notices he can't sing in French; Sonia Ganassi (Eboli) was musically weak but managed a good acting performance (especially in Act 4); Adrianne Pieczonka was vocally the best of the cast but her acting skills are limited to one facial expression; Carlos Alvarez lacked something as Rodrigue - authenticity I suspect, and the stage directions obviously didn't help.

III. The music

Another huge disappointment there.
The reading Maurizio Benini has of that piece seems to be that, since Don Carlos is so long it's bound to be boring, the best thing to do is to rush the musicians, speed things up - and be done with it. The problem with that assumption is that it doesn't reveal the beauty of the score at all, as he used no nuance, lacked finesse and passion. His conduction was flat and linear yet extremely speedy (very disturbing indeed).

I'll stick to my DVD conducted by Pappano with Alagna, Hampson and Van Dam.

Further readings:

- A piece (in French) written by Jaime Estapà including the historical discrepancies of the opera
- Michael Milenski (in English)


The Opera Tattler said...

Nice to hear that Farina is consistent. ;)

Extatic said...

Exactly. :)