‘Don’ improves with progress of production
A sumptuous co-production of Verdi's "Don Carlo" opened the 2008 Hawaii Opera Theatre season on Friday. It is a large work with almost everything a grand opera requires: many acts, lots of people on stage, attractive costumes and scenery, intense drama, plenty of duets and arias, and a strong chorus.
Presented by Hawaii Opera Theatre
On stage: 4 p.m. today; 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
Place: Blaisdell Concert Hall
Tickets: $29 to $120
Call: 596-7858 or visit www.hawaiiopera.org
Verdi composed this work in 1867 for the French opera, eventually re-working it and eliminating the first act for the Italian version of 1884. The 1884 version is the one staged at Blaisdell. Although the original French version would have been too long (both for the audience and the musicians' contract), its first act does make the story more dramatic. Instead, Don Carlo tells us right at the beginning that he was once betrothed to the love of his life, Elisabetta, but she is married, for political reasons, to Carlo's father, Philip II. That is the only aria we hear from Carlo.
Tenor Warren Mok's performance of Carlo's aria was a little low-key and did not show the sensibility that the drama dictates. Entering immediately in a role originally built in an hour of drama is tough. But Mok progressively engaged in the character's role. In the "friendship" duets with his comrade Rodrigo, in the last duet with Elisabetta, and in the argument with his father in the middle of the opera, he proved Carlo's versatility: Passionate but never able to release his sentiments, Mok interpreted the character's frustration well.
In fact, the whole opera improved as it developed. During their duet in the first act, Rodrigo and Carlo stood rigid and disarticulate while confusingly waggling their swords, but later both Mok and baritone Philip Cutlip were more convincing in their acting and gracious in their singing. Having the most passionate role and most tuneful melodies, Cutlip gradually released his enthusiasm and delivered Rodrigo's heroic persona with skill.
In the first act, mezzo-soprano Jessie Raven, in the role of Princess Eboli, showed off her exotic singing skills in the "Veil Song," a Moorish tail of deception, but not enough strength came out of her performance. Her role requires singing in three registers, but the dark end of her voice lacked the needed robust quality. Her third-act duet with Queen Elisabetta, however, and her confession aria, in which she admits plotting against the queen, were fantastic. The two voices beautifully crossed ranges.
Bass Dong-Jian Gong, as Filippo, had his moment of glory in the third act, when he displayed his vocal and psychological complexity in the romanza "Ella giammai m'am?." He was noble, deep, authoritarian and yet weak and old. And the following duet with the Inquistor, bass Jamie Offenbach, was probably the production's most dramatic moment. Gong's deep voice and the bleak atmosphere created by Offenbach singing the lower of the lowest pitches were outstanding.
The role of Elisabetta is very demanding, not only because Verdi often pushes her in the lower range, but also because her moment of splendor comes more than two hours into the opera. Soprano Fabiana Bravo superbly portrayed the dramatic dimension of her role, alone on stage, delivering a powerful and moving performance.
Finally, the costumes were fabulous. Helen E. Rodgers created period garments with exquisite taste, matching the color of the elegant stage scenery. Overall, it was a luxurious production that satisfied our eyes and ears, gradually ending on a high point.
Valeria Wenderoth has a doctorate in musicology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where she also teaches.