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Don Carlo - Zürich - 20.Januar 1977
Swiss Model: Exemplary new productions in Geneva and Zürich

New productions in Genf and Zürich

By Imre Fabian - English translation: © Maria Kozlova
An outstanding production of the Geneva theatre: Verdi's "Don Carlos" with a first-rate cast of singers serving the musical drama, and a staging that shows human fate and conflicts in given historical situations, and not a decorative pompous opera. (...)
A Feast of Voices, but no pompous opera
Verdi's "Don Carlos" in Geneva
It was a cast of choice voices, which one can hear and see only at festivals such as that of Munich or Salzburg, and on lucky days at greatest opera houses: singers that promise a feast and do not disappoint the hearer. The present "Don Carlos" was worth a trip to Geneva just for the sake of abundant splendid voices. However, the Geneva production of this opera by Verdi with its special conception of performance and spiritual claim is more than a simple demonstration of voice splendor, a delight in harmony of beautiful voices, or a feast of delicious singing. Gean-Claude Riber's staging shows the drama of struggle between church and state, between state interests and personal attachment, and Verdi's sharp picture of characters that is often overshadowed by external, purely decorative development of scenes. Thus, it is no beautiful festival opera, but a musical drama.

This "Don Carlos" is not homage to the French Grand Operá but Verdi's central dramatic work. The personages of the drama are victims of a historical struggle for authority between church and state, victims of their official standing: King Philip, incapable of making a decision and injured at his personal feelings, queen Elisabeth and Infante Don Carlos sacrificed to state interests, Idealist Posa, as well as the Great Inquisitor, who acts according to his dogmatic thinking, a prisoner of his ideology.

Great ardent feelings, often destructive and self-destroying emotions such as love, friendship, patriotism, and striving for freedom, are central themes of the opera dramaturge Verdi in this work as well, in spite of great theatrical gestures, in spite of characteristic features of a great opera inhering in the drama   "Don Carlos". The director Riber knows very well that one may not and cannot reject these. So does this Geneva production not lack theatrical luster in a good sense: the director does not make effective mass scenes opulent, but uses them to deepen and intensify the dramatic situation, for example, in the scene of auto-da-fe in the setting created by scene-painter Josef Svoboda after historical models.

The historical Spain of Philip II and Inquisition is present in every scene, inspired by great masterpieces of fine arts of that time. An example of how the scenery may become visual power that creates a certain atmosphere without defining a concrete place of action is the great scene in the Escorial, with a monumental fresco fragment in the background. Riber's interpretation of the final scene, left open by Verdi with the words of Karl V, goes a step farther: armed monks kill Don Carlos before he enters the cell.

A feast of beautiful voices without conceit reigns on the stage.There is no singing for the sake of singing; there are no vainglorious stars, but singing actors with dramatic intelligence. Ruggero Raimondi is a Philip of a great format, a reasoning statesman, demanding implicit obedience, but at he same time a sentient and broken man. The Spanish tenor José Carreras after his flash-like career is heading toward the highest peak. His strong, clear, expressive voice, gradually conquering the piano domain as well, and perfectly controlled, makes him an ideal Don Carlos: an ardent, energetic, imposing singer, that can express a large scale of feelings: tenderness, resignation, despair, love, friendship and revolt. Beside him is a less emotional and intuitive, but prepossessing Marquis di Posa, sung by the eminently suitable voice of Matteo Manguerra.

Katia Ricciarelli, whose Elisabeth in the Munich Festival performance seemed rather plain and inane, was convincing both as a singer who gradually gains dramatic expressiveness and volume, and a sensitive actress. Eva Randowa's Eboli was a picture of beauty, with much charm, expression and nobility. She is an excellent singer with charisma; her voice timbre changes colors slightly at the register shift.  Luigi Roni's Great Inquisitor impresses both with his steady, sonorous, rich in overtone bass, and his dramatic performance of this role of a powerful church prince, who emphasizes and guards his special status. Minor roles were sung by Anne Conoley (Tebaldo), Francisco Vergara (Karl V), Monique Delassus (Voice of the Heaven). The Vienna Opera Choir under Paul-Andre Gaillard once more demonstrated its best qualities.

Jesus Lopez-Cobos, musical director of the new production, confirmed his reputation of a Verdi conductor. A pleasant surprise was his work with the Suisse Romande orchestra known for being mediocre. He was an excellent partner to the singers. Thus we owe the fascinating ensemble of the evening to the influence of the conductor.

VERDI: .DON CARLOS.. Premiere on January 20, 1977. Performance attended on 27. 1. Musical direction: Jesus Lopez-Cobos
Stage director: Jean-Claude Riber
Scene painter: Josef Svoboda
Costumes: Jarmila Konecna
Choir leader: Paul-André Gaillard
Cast: Ruggero Raimondi (Philipp II.), José Carreras (Carlos), Matteo Manuguerra (Posa), Luigi Roni (Great Inquisitor), Francisco Vergara (Karl V.). Katja Ricciarelli (Elisabeth), Eva Randova (Eboli), Anne Conoley (Tebaldo), Dominique Charlier (Prinzess Aremberg), Robert Gambill (Count Lerma), Monique Delassus (Voice of heaven), Etienne Bettens, Michel Bouvier, Frantois Castel, Pierre-Michel Golay, Franrois Moser, André Riz-a-Porta (Messenger from Flandern).Orchestre de la Suisse Romande.