Dec 9, 2008

Don Carlo, Scala opening night '08

Don Carlo, G.Verdi 4-act Italian version
Teatro alla Scala, Dec.7 - Jan.15

Don Carlo - Stuart Neill
Filippo II - Ferruccio Furlanetto
Rodrigo - Dalibor Jenis
Il grande Inquisitor - Anatolij Kotscherga
Elisabeth de Valois - Fiorenza Cedolins
Princess Eboli - Dolora Zajick

Daniele Gatti conducting the orchestra and chorus of Il Teatro alla Scala
Staging and sets - Stéphane Braunschweig  

Review of the Dec.7 live Arte broadcast

This new production of Don Carlo at la Scala is indeed an incredibly accurate statement as to the current state of this Opera House: mediocre cast, mediocre staging and mediocre crowd. Welcome to Milan!

The only true vibrant and inspiring elements of this run were Ferruccio Furlanetto and the conduction of Daniele Gatti - who was booed during the performance because the loggione and the audience in general decided he was guilty of replacing tenor Giuseppe Filianoti the day before the premiere. Apparently that's against the étiquette in Milan (but what isn't in this town I wonder).

Daniele Gatti's view on Don Carlo is very personal, and the colors displayed by the orchestra create a global atmosphere that transcend personal taste and provide a coherent complement to Braunschweig's staging.

I may not agree with all the choices Gatti made, but his conduction was brilliant on several occasions - specifically the duet between Rodrigo and Don Carlo in Act I (although the singing and unison were nightmarish) and the second half of Act III (from the aria of Rodrigo visiting Carlo in jail). On the other hand, the tempi were off for Elisabeth's aria in Act IV and at the end of the opera.

Overall, the conduction of Gatti emphasizes the naive aspect of the score, offering a childish reading (especially when it comes to Don Carlo) that is echoing to Braunschweig's staging.

The only thing that doesn't work at all in that theme is Stuart Neill's timbre. His voice lacks the clarity necessary to make the concept work (truth be told, I don't think Don Carlo should be anything but a tenore lirico). The fact that he was preferred to Filianoti was probably a very tough decision to make, considering the cohesion of the production.

Stuart Neill as Don Carlo

The staging of Stéphane Braunschweig (a director that followed Lissner to Milan when he was hired) is, to me, the biggest flaw of this production. It's obvious he spent a lot of time designing the sets and thinking about their visual impact (his lines are indeed perfect, and his perspectives impeccable). He also focused on the spacial division of the stage - the upper background representing the past, when everybody was a happy, carefree child; the front of the stage being the present, tense and threatening.

These two elements are the only ideas Braunschweig projected on stage. Everything else is bland, apathic and desperately lacking any kind of statement from the director. My main critic though is Braunschweig's lack of any kind of actor's direction.

He has obviously not been given the best acting cast, but his absence in that department is what ultimately produced this utterly boring performance (imagine static singers with no gesture like in the 1950s productions and you'll have a pretty good idea of what Braunschweig allowed on stage). This casual approach is unforgivable (especially since he's a theater-turned-opera director) and completely ruins the performance, stripping it of any kind of emotion and life.

There's nothing either in the exploration of the characters - and then, you start realizing there's nothing original anywhere. Act II is basically a showcase of tawdry costumes (the costumes of the Graham Vick's production in Paris were beyond comparison) that ends up with a beautiful yet meaningless red lightning; "Ella giammai m'amo" in Act III is as empty as the stage of the Konwitschny's production with cliché lights (sorrow = blue atmosphere), and the dichotomy between the past and present situations is using the same tricks as Knowitschny did in the "Eboli dream" sequence. All and all, nothing new, only recycled ideas from others. That's what I call directing.

The autodafe scene in Act III

The singers

 With no help from the director, the acting part was a disaster for everybody except Ferruccio Furlanetto (who is relying exclusively but very successfully on his own charisma).

Fiorenza Cedolins and Ferruccio Furlanetto

Dolora Zajick's Eboli was vocally fine, Fiorenza Cedolins doesn't bring enough emotions to her singing and Anatolij Kotscherga lacks stage presence (and should really articulate). Dalibor Jenis as Rodrigo has a good technique and a beautiful timbre, but his good singing isn't enough to compensate for his non-existent acting skills (I wonder how much better he can act with a decent coach).

Stuart Neill and Dalibor Jenis

Stuart Neill is nothing but a poor Don Carlo. He doesn't move at all (unless the implant in his brain is remotely activated by Braunschweig thus starting a jerky and absurd movement), showcases absolutely no emotion (neither vocally nor physically), is unfit for the role (both vocally and physically, again) and has problems with his tempi.

Thank God for Ferruccio Furlanetto.  


All and all, the revival of Vick's Don Carlo in Paris last June was a much better experience for me than this mediocre Scala production. The cast, the sets, the direction and the costumes were better in Paris. Furlanetto was as good as in Paris, but the conduction of Gatti is obviously on a whole different level than Currentzis's.


mostly opera... said...

Wasn´t the Paris Don Carlo by Graham Vick (and not David McVicar)?

Extatic said...

Oups... you're right - obviously my memories are not so accurate...

I'll correct the post.

Anonymous said...

>truth be told, I don't think Don Carlo should be anything but a tenore lirico