Last year at this time--perhaps some listers remember--I posted on the 1997
Munich Opera Festival. One of the highlights was David Alden's new production
of Monteverdi's POPPEA with David Daniels. Since then both the production and
Daniels have had tremendous success-I feel fortunate to have heard/seen it and
have, as a result, personally taken an interest in countertenors (Dominique
Visse and Alex Köhler performed the roles of Arnalta and Ottone).
Now I am back a year later (actually I never left, I just don't post as often
as I would like) with another post, this time sharing with you my impressions
of DON CARLO and PARSIFAL at the Salzburg Festival.
First off, I got in to Don Carlo! I tried for months ahead of time to get
tickets-in vain. There is booming black-market with a mark-up of 25%-50% under
the condition that you also buy a package--in our case, in conjunction with
tickets for Entführung aus dem Serail which we couldn't use. That would have
meant a ticket price in the range of $600-$700. We absolutely lucked out and
bought tickets 5 minutes before the curtain rose for face value from a nice
couple who had two extra tickets in the mid orchestra. Perfect!
As elated as I was to get in, I must say that for the quality that one can
expect from Salzburg, the performance left much to be desired. This DON CARLO
was the premiere performance of Herbert Wernicke's new production of the 4-act
Milan version sung in Italian and conducted by Lorin Maazel with the Vienna
As already discussed on the list, both Ramey and Gruber cancelled. Their
replacements were, unfortunately, not up to par. Rene Pape, who took over the
role of Philipp II, was vocally unfocused and hardly able to carry the weight
of the character of the King. The role demands a ripe, mature bass-Pape can
certainly grow into the role, but for now it was far too early. Why Pape was
chosen for role? Well, I don't know, but I can say there are so many other
talented basses ready and waiting for such an golden opportunity of a
generational turnover. Why Pape?
Marina Mescheriakova, who sang Queen Elisabeth, has a beautifully clear-toned
soprano voice that floats and carries quite well on the top. Elisabeth is
disadvantaged in the 4-act version because she is robbed of any character
development. Without the romance duet with Carlo, she enters the stage as a
woman suffering from her political decision to marry and that doesn't change.
With that in mind and in all due respect, Mescheriakova didn't make enough of
the role. Perhaps under-rehearsed?? Her appearance was, nonetheless, noble and
she was graced with regal black and navy blue gowns. Her biggest drawback,
however, was a vocal one: her piano, especially in the middle range, she sings
at half voice as if she were marking for a rehearsal in order to preserve her
voice. The Festspielhaus is one of the larger European houses with seating
capacity of 2100, and when you don't sing to your fullest, it sticks out
There were, however, two highlights of the evening that made it all worth it:
Carlos Alvarez as Rodrigo and Dolora Zajick as Eboli.
Alvarez, a Spanish baritone, made a sensational debut with his Rodrigo
performance. His voice has a glorious, lyrical, round tone, so even and so
secure, and his energy and musical phrasing nearly put Sergei Larin under the
table in the "Dio, che nell'alma infondere". He was a proud, cavalier-like
Rodrigo -fully present and confident in the role-as you can conclude, I
thought he was truly magnificent and believe he is headed for a great
Dolora Zajick sang a powerful Eboli, and in her soaring voice sang a riveting
"O don fatale" that set the audience into the only spontaneous, enthusiastic
scene applause of the evening. All evening long I was imagining her as
Azucena, the princess Eboli plagued by her beauty eluded me. Sergei Larin,
whom I had seen perform before, was not a Don Carlo who elicits empathy for
his fateful dilemma of loving his father's wife. Despite his pleasing timbred
tenor voice and youthfulness, his unconvincing character left a crucial gap in
the musical drama.
Last but not least in the cast is the Grande Inquisitore, Paul Plishka. In
this production, he was neither blind nor particularly old (perhaps 70?) and
Plishka capitalized on this by striding across the stage in commanding steps.
He was an engaged, imposing Inquisitore with a sonorous, resonant bass--had he
had an equal counterpart, the scenes could have been very moving.
As a brief side note, thanks to fellow lister Sara Hedgpeth, I had the
privilege to visit a Master Class that Paul Plishka gave the following day at
the Austrian American Mozart Academy in Salzburg. He was superb in pointing
out to those vulnerable students their faults in a respectful, humorous manner
and offering earnest suggestions. The students--and I--couldn't get enough of
So, on the last stretch here for those of you still with me, here are my
comments on the orchestra, conductor and production.
The orchestra under the direction of Maazel was often dragging and slow, and
the music lacked dramatic energy necessary to create tension to carry us
through the 4 ½ hour evening, particularly evident in act IV. The following
evening at the Parsifal performance under the direction of Valery Gergiev, the
Vienna Philharmonic revealed a different side of themselves.
The Wernicke production is based on a juxtaposition of, on one hand, a simple
set consisting of several monumental (theme appropriate) moveable, whitewashed
wall pieces with high, open door spaces and monumental piercing golden
spearheads pointing in various directions, and, on the other hand, complex,
sober, individual characters dwarfed by those walls and threatened by the
spears. The set created some interesting effects, but on the whole I felt the
characters were not only oppressed, but with this set and staging it would
have taken a minor miracle for the characters to come into their own.
All of that at the Salzburg Festival 1998!