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Our Carlos here is Vasile Moldoveanu. And he sounds very nice. But Carlos is a little too much in control of himself. He is sometimes tormented, of course, because he’s Don Carlos. But neither his sudden and ill-advised infatuation with Elisabeth nor his sudden and ill-advised political awakening nor any of the rest of it ever ring true in terms of characterization. Moldoveanu just looks concerned and/or slightly rattled most of the time. And where you might expect Carlos to be warm or enthusiastic, it doesn’t quite happen – Posa doesn’t even rate a hug when he shows up. They sort of touch arms and back off. It looks like a version of ‘manly’ emotional control, but Carlos is not really a person who has a great deal of that, if you think about it.
Part of the blame lies in the stage direction which is, ah – rudimentary I suppose is the best word. Simple would be kinder. Sometimes it verges into daft (during a musically and emotionally riveting “tu che la vanità” near the end, for example, poor Renata Scotto has to actually stop and point at the tomb when she mentions finding peace beyond the grave) but mostly it’s just ‘stand and deliver.’
Here is the garden scene where Carlos and Eboli have their great misunderstanding:
This sounds great. But it looks a bit awkward. And this is not a case of an ‘abstracted’ style of stage direction where people act in weirdly symbolic ways that nevertheless make sense. Neither is it the case that the acoustics at the Met prevent people from facing one another every so often while singing. I mean, when Carlos exclaims “non è la regina!” should he not be slightly more alarmed? (Also, his little “away!” gesture and general “silly ridiculous woman” expression seems more 1950s ‘important man dismissing pointless feminine concerns’ than ‘Don Carlos.’) And Tatiana Troyanos (Eboli) responds to his realization with an “ahimè!” that is closer to “drat!” than “oh no this is bad.”
And I say this as a great admirer of Troyanos. I love the way her voice sounds. When she and Moldoveanu and Sherill Milnes (Posa) get into that trio it’s fantastic. The same is true of the Philip/Eboli/Elisabeth/Posa quartet later on. Enough of the drama is in the music that the rest of it falls away for a few minutes.
But this tends to be the exception rather than the rule. To return to Eboli, take the veil song:
As is uniformly the case in this performance, the orchestral playing here is excellent. It’s grand, in the best sense of that word, and all the little details leap out right where they should. But the veil song itself is only a light-hearted diversion because that is what the story says it is. And again, Troyanos is bringing the big guns as far as singing goes. But you don’t get a sense of Eboli as a person here, or what her mood or manner in this scene might have to do with how she behaves later.
In fact, I would say that this is the case nearly across the board. This production takes the emotions – love, dismay, despair — almost too much at face value. It’s like there’s a little token for each one which is produced at the appropriate time in the form of familiar types of stage gesture, but that’s all. This does not mean there is no intensity to any of it – far from it. You get good value for your token. In addition to what I mentioned above, Paul Plishka (Philip) gives a fantastic performance of “ella giammai m’amò”, Troyanos’s “o don fatale” is likewise exciting, and I could instance more but you get the picture. As I said, this is a really excellent musical performance of this opera. These are big exciting voices accompanied by really intelligent orchestral playing. Everyone knows what they’re doing and they are doing it without reservation. It’s great. But it still feels almost like a series of set-pieces.
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