(Previous section here.)
In terms of concept this production did not seem radically different from other productions of this opera that I have seen. But the acting and stage direction do do something rather sweet and human and emphasize that Carlos and Elisabeth love each other in that elevated Verdian way, but they also want one another and crave the comfort of human contact. The two are about to snuggle up together on Carlos’s cloak when the chorus shows up in Act I to give them the news of the great change in plans; there are moments all through the opera where Elisabeth has her hands on Carlos’s shoulders or arms and then suddenly pulls back with this sort of “Merde! I’m touching him again!” look on her face; they consistently have their hands on one another during their big moments together, but it’s neither unalloyed lust nor a simple need for human connection – it’s somewhere between the two, and the fact that they can’t (for a variety of reasons) make it one or the other is fairly key to their whole unhappy situation.
Indeed, all the excitement seems to render poor Elisabeth (Anja Harteros) a little light-headed. She often looks almost woozy after a close encounter of the Carlos kind. And when she faints in her husband’s study after the distressing business with the portrait and the jewelry box, it takes her long enough to pry herself up off of the floor that I was beginning to suspect either anemia or catalepsy. Or maybe she’s just a little on edge. Certainly when Eboli confesses her theft of the jewelry box, Elisabeth’s startled “Voi?!” is accompanied by a spring backwards to get the wall behind her that would make more sense if Eboli had not only confessed betrayal but also, say, turned into a giant beetle.
But if Elisabeth is anemic, Anja Harteros’s singing certainly is not. Sometimes, at the beginning of the opera and at the beginning of some scenes I feel like I’m hearing her vibrato before I hear her voice or the note she’s singing, but the rest of it was such that I found I didn’t mind. In “tu che la vanità,” for example, she beautifully communicates Elisabeth’s ambivalence and the tension between love and resignation – you can see/hear the character get lost in thoughts of what she wants, or would like, and then return to her usual resolve. And the pure, shimmering tone that Harteros produces there and in the “io vengo a domendar” scene with Carlos earlier (and elsewhere as well) is extremely easy on the ears.
I have not yet seen either on DVD or live an Eboli that I felt like I could get behind from beginning to end. I think it’s in large part the slightly weird demands of the role – someone commented once that “nel giardin del bello” sounds like it was written for a different person than “o don fatale.” To really nail it from start to finish, the singer has to be hair-raisingly powerful but also convincingly playful and quite a few other things besides. True to the general pattern I have observed with various Ebolis, Ekaterina Semenchuk seemed kind of square and not at all amusing and also lacking in agility during the veil song. But things picked up as she went along. By her meeting with Carlos at night in the garden and the subsequent trio with Posa both the voice and the general vibe were growing on me (I can’t help it: every time I see that scene, and Carlos emits that startled “non è la regina!” I have to fight the urge to laugh. I mean: no shit, dude.) By the time we got to the scene with the Elisabeth/Eboli/Posa/Philip quartet Semenchuk was giving it all it was worth dramatically, and the middle section of “o don fatale,” the part that begins “solo in chiostro” felt really lyrical and thoughtful. It seemed to me that by the last climax of that aria, the whole “un di mi resta” thing, that she was being pushed, tempo-wise, by Pappano – I wanted that to have a little more space to it. But even so, I liked it.
Also, Eboli in this production is conspicuously missing an eye patch. Come on. No eye patch? Really? I am not normally a stickler about staging conventions, but I really have to put my foot down about this one. Designers of productions of Don Carlos: EYE PATCH OR GTFO.
(Next section here.)