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One other thing about the production. Unlike in many versions, where Carlos is hustled off into the tomb or otherwise ambiguously disposed of, here he really does die at the end, which I appreciated. It’s a little more satisfying than that typical nineteenth century ‘death but not really kinda sorta’ thing, like with Carlos being pulled into the tomb, or to take another example, the end of Wagner’s Der Fliegende Holländer where Senta is supposed to leap into the ocean and drown but also be spiritually reunited with the Dutchman. I’d much rather we cut to the chase and have dead people be dead. And here Carlos is definitely dead – after a sword fight he’s wounded, falls, and expires in Elizabeth’s arms. If he can’t die in that particular location metaphorically, he at least gets to do so literally, I guess.
One thing I noticed listening to this performance that I had sort of registered before but not really thought about was the effectiveness of the scenes in which you have solo vocal parts that you can hear sometimes, but which get persistently drowned out by the presence of other soloists and the chorus. At the end of Act I, for example, after Elizabeth has agreed to the marriage with Philip, and she and Carlos are both very sad about this, you hear those two, and then they get overwhelmed by everyone else. A similar thing happens with some solo parts in the auto-da-fe scene. It feels like a very effective way of showing musically how powerless the individual people actually are in this story. And in one of these very scenes where this happens, the production reinforces it visually: in that scene at the end of Act I, where Elizabeth agrees to the marriage, she is not only covered in a heavy black and gold cloak, but placed on a litter and carried off by the crowd of attendants. Where she goes is literally out of her control, although Carlos does run after her to give her the red-covered picture of himself which Philip later finds.
There are some very good performances here. I’m still a little bit on the fence about Rolando Villazón. In so many scenes he starts out sounding really nice, and then somehow over the course of the thing I lose interest in the sound. Some of his best moments in this performance are the quieter, more tender ones, which include Carlos’s duets with Elizabeth. One thing that I noticed that is somewhere between singing and staging is in Carlos and Posa (Simon Keenlyside)’s first duet in Act II, where they’re singing different pitches but in unison, the staging has Carlos turn away in despair, but that matched vocal line almost literally seems to pull them back together. (And for the record, Keenlyside does not get saddled with either a single metaphorical black glove, like in the last version of this opera that I watched – different singer as Posa – or a preposterous wig.)
Sonia Ganassi as Eboli sometimes lacked precision, e.g in the veil song – but that in some ways I’m getting used to, as far as performances of this opera are concerned. (I think my problem is that I absorbed this aria years ago as performed by Magdalena Kozena, who has a lighter and more agile voice, and also as performed by Shirley Verrett, who could not only sing Verdi well but also tear through bel canto material with ease, and so my mental template is of a certain type of mezzo singing it which is not necessarily the type of mezzo who typically gets cast as Eboli in this opera. Some people can whip through the lighter stuff and raise the roof with ‘o don fatale’ but these ladies are the exception rather than the rule.) I noticed this lack of precision again in the scene in the garden with Carlos and Posa, at the very beginning of the part that begins “trema per te, falso figliuolo.” But in general that scene is pretty exciting, and I enjoyed “o don fatale.” Specifically what I enjoyed about it was the shift in mood that Ganassi conveys when Eboli realizes she has a day left to fix things – you really feel the character’s excitement and hope.
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