(Previous section here.)
The standout for me in this performance was Marina Poplavskaya as Elizabeth. She’s really wonderful here.
The highest notes sound great (e.g. “o ciel!” in Act I during her duet with Carlos) and the voice has this sound that’s both light and youthful but also has some weight to it. She’s not sacrificing dramatic expression for beauty of tone, either – in Elizabeth’s scene with Carlos in Act II, for example, there are moments where you really feel the character’s frustration and resentment. This is singing that has a very definite shape and dramatic tension all the way through. For my money she outshines Villazón in their duets in terms of both sound and delicacy/subtlety of phrasing.
“Tu che la vanità” was really impressive. Not only does it sound as good as every other part of this performance, but you get a sense that Elizabeth has gained some gravitas since that first scene where she was just a girl with long hair romping about in the forest with a loaded firearm. (There are moments of such interesting and compelling space in Verdi’s music in this opera – I hear it in this aria, and in the “io vengo a domendar” duet in Act II, and also in Carlos and Elizabeth’s duet in Act I, where they’re building the fire. There are moments in the music when something seems to just sort of open up, and the space contains sadness and regret that are somehow bigger than even what the characters are feeling.) With this “tu che la vanità” you get the sense by the end of it that Elizabeth has worked something out in the process – she’s subtly different afterwards. Again, this is a really lovely performance of this role.
There are things about this performance, then, that I really liked. My favorite production of Don Carlos that I’ve seen recently – the production itself, as opposed to the musical details of the performance – is still probably still this one (link goes to Amazon because the grumpy “get off my lawn, Regietheater!” customer reviews are kind of a hoot) from the Vienna state opera in 2004, which is of the complete 1867 French version. I’m tempted to play fantasy opera casting with these two, and swap out Iano Tamar, who is Elizabeth in the Vienna one, for Marina Poplavskaya, but when I think further about it, even though Poplavskaya’s performance is more beautiful, there was a dramatic wholeness to Tamar’s that I wouldn’t necessarily want to lose. So, I’ll leave everyone where they are. This ROH one isn’t quite as interesting as that one from Vienna, but it’s definitely worth seeing and hearing, particularly for Poplavskaya.
Finally. One annoying thing about this DVD – you get a wonderful detailed synopsis of the action in the booklet, but no track listings. What the hell?