This Don Carlos was broadcast from Salzburg back in August. Apparently it has been on and off YouTube ever since – I think the Salzburg people are probably fighting an uphill battle as far as that is concerned. But isn’t that Firefox widget that adds a ‘download’ option to YouTube videos really cool? I say this only as an unconnected observation, not because I have been downloading videos of Salzburg broadcasts.
The stage director in this thing is Peter Stein; sets by Ferdinand Wögerbauer; costumes by Annamaria Heinreich; the orchestra is the Vienna Philharmonic under Antonio Pappano. They have used the Italian version of the opera, and we get the Fontainebleau scene in Act I (with the chorus) and later, the scene where Elisabeth and Eboli switch masks, although there is no ballet. The production goes for spare and chilly – there is a lot of open space and unadorned surfaces. In the first act, the forest is a blurry white space with some piles of cut logs and fallen bare trees. Now and then (when Elisabeth and Carlos first begin to converse, and at other moments when the drama grows more intense) you can see the glow of lights in a tower in the distance that is barely distinguishable from the surrounding chilly haze. By the end of the act, the stage has grown dark and the windows glow bright red.
The rest of the thing has a similar aesthetic. The garden in which Eboli and the court ladies goof off in later on, for example, is a bare concrete space with a grim-looking pool; the whole thing is lit in a kind of arsenic green. (The ladies come wading in through that sludgy pool, barefoot – given that they’re all dressed in black, I had this creepy feeling that one of them was going to unpin a cataract of unwashed hair and begin reciting Baudelaire. But nope. Veil song, like usual.) The brightest moment is during the auto-da-fe, when you see a large, clear, bright window in the rear, broken only by two slender columns. Beyond it is a blue sky with fluffy clouds. But by the end of the act, the sky has clouded over, and the light serves mainly to outline the silhouettes of the heretics being burned.
The costumes are roughly sixteenth century, though Elisabeth’s outfit in the first act seems to imply that the French discovered those headache-inducing 19th century chemical dyes about three hundred years before we all thought they did, and that in the case of Elisabeth’s dress they elected to try out the effect of using every single one of them at once. Later, as queen of Spain, Elisabeth wears black pretty much all the time; I imagine this is probably kind of a relief for her. (Alternately, it may be that Eliza Doolittle is bound and gagged in a closet somewhere, missing her clothes and feeling rather hard done by.)
There are moments of stage direction in this that I have seen elsewhere – for example when Elisabeth agrees to the marriage to Philip in Act I she is placed in a chair and carried away, indicating that she has agreed to be guided, in the future, by others’ requirements rather than her own desires. Or, for the Carlos/Posa/Eboli trio in the garden later on, you often see the three soloists lined up across the stage at some distance from one another – maybe this has something to do with the demands of projecting the music? Anyway, they do the same thing here, at least to some extent. There was a bit more mobility than I’m used to, and I didn’t mind.
But the familiar (and the slightly garish) aside, this is a Don Carlo that certainly does not lack for something to say.
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