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Subject: ROH Don Carlo review
From: Maxwell Paley <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Maxwell Paley <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Fri, 2 Jun 2017 09:58:42 -0700
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There’s been a thread started from discussions of the ROH production, cast changes, etc.  I saw the Friday May 26 performance and thought I’d add some commentary.

This isn’t really a ‘review’ because I’m not going to discuss the visual aspects of the production. I’m better at describing the musical/dramatic performances.

This was the “1886 version” - five acts, sung in Italian.

What started out as a real all star cast (Hymel, Stoyanova, Semenchuk, Tezier, Abdrazakov, Burchuladze) was hit with a few relatively early cancellations. Stoyanova bowed out for “health” reasons almost two months ago, right at the end of her Met “Aida” run. Tezier bowed out more recently. Stoyanova was replaced by Kristin Lewis and Tezier was covered by Christoph Pohl for some performances, Simone Piazzola for others.  I saw Pohl.

Even with replacements, the vocal standard was quite high and most performers were at least visually credible. I found the performance to be less than the sum of its parts, however. When that occurs (or a “more than the sum of parts”) I tend to credit or blame the conductor. In this case, I had fairly high expectations of Bertrand de Billy but found his conducting more on the level of good competence than a great statement of the work. Individual numbers were all well enough done, but I missed the overarching line and cumulative impact a great conductor brings to this score. You don’t have to go back to Giulini or Karajan for a comparison, last summer’s SF run under Luisotti was much more powerfully shaped as were earlier performances in this ROH production conducted by Pappano. Similarly, the orchestral playing was good, but not on the level of splendor these guys can achieve under a Pappano or Bychkov.

I felt Lewis was the weak spot, maybe already coming down with whatever ailed her the following Monday, but some things not easily attributed to being out of sorts. Basically very beautiful voice with big creamy highs and beautiful pianissimi. Timbre and upper register remind me a great deal of Martina Arroyo. Unfortunately, also like Arroyo, she tended to lag behind the beat and her lower middle register was chalky and inaudible. Musically she was extremely inconsistent: sometimes beautifully formed, long breathed phrases but also too many where the phrase was broken into individual bursts (of uncertain intonation) such that it seemed she didn’t have a clear idea where the actual musical line was going. Inconsistent.

Bryan Hymel’s bright timbre projects over all and he gave a reasonable and thoughtful interpretation. He lacks the kind of penetrating interpretive depth that even a Michael Fabbiano can produce, not to mention Jonas Kaufmann who featured earlier in this production. He’s a pleasant looking cutie-bear type but ultimately, I find, lacks charisma. He did interpolate high Cs at the end of the two occurrences of the big duet with Posa - the main instance in Act 2 and its reprise at the end of the Act 3 garden scene. I wasn’t impressed. The unison G with baritone and tenor is a big, powerful moment and having the tenor go high afterwards completely undermines the impact. Also, those Cs weren’t nearly big and thrilling enough to warrant the interpolation. It seemed like a bit of extraneous showing off.

Ekaterina Semenchuk is probably at the top of the current Verdi mezzo pile. She isn’t as consistently gloriously loud as Cossotto, Obraztsova (the nearest comparison) or Zajick, but she’s able to pull off big moments that make it reasonable to mention he in that company. She sometimes has a guttural sound reminiscent of Obraztsova, but most of her upper middle and high register singing has a remarkable purity, power and beauty. She attacks top notes very cleanly (highest note being the C-flat in “O don fatale’). She actually did a very fine job with both the veil song (the oscillating minor second passage cleanly articulated both in its legato and staccato instances) and the big “O don fatale” (where she managed to pull out powerful high notes and big volume of sound and expression). I found her credible as the angry scorned woman and quite moving so as the guilt-ridden betrayer of Elisabetta.

I liked Christoph Pohl a lot. Beautiful rich, fluid voice with very easy high notes. Sound of the voice reminded me of Thomas Allen. Beautiful long breathed phrasing. He looked good - tall, slender, good physique. What he lacked was the power of persona that lights up this character from within and that I’ve seen recently from the likes of Simon Keenlyside and Mariusz Kwiecen in particular. Maybe with more time and better direction, that would come.

Abdrazakov was powerful, imposing, handsome and he sang Philip beautifully. I was actually more moved by his big aria than I have been by many other major celebrity basses: he seemed genuinely taken down and vulnerable. Burchuldaze (Inquisitor) has a basically worn sound but can muster up some powerful volume, particularly in his upper range and he still projects a powerful persona.

As I mentioned, with all of that good, I felt there should have been a greater cumulative impact to the performance. As such, I’d call it “very good” rather than great.

Max Paley

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