(Previous section here.)
Michelle Vilma (Eboli) also occasionally sounds a little harsh, for example in parts of the trio with Carlos and Posa and in bits of “au palais des fées.” Also I kept losing her in the Act IV Philip/Elizabeth/Eboli/Posa quartet, but that might have been a microphone placement issue rather than Vilma herself.
Something striking happened, though, with “O don fatal” (did you know that the librettist originally began that aria with some shit about tears glistening on one’s eyelids and Verdi was like, dude, no, I have a way better idea, and we got “o don fatal!” instead? this is a true story, according to the booklet). Normally, standard operating procedure with this aria requires mezzo, conductor and orchestra to launch themselves into it like a barbarian horde in a movie descending into a valley, waving their swords and roaring and taking no prisoners. Then there’s a contrast with the more contemplative bit in the middle before the army comes back at the end. (Lest I seem critical of the the RAAAAWWWRRRR approach to “O don fatale,” let me reassure you that I am not.) But here, Vilma and the orchestra start out oddly quietly. The thing gathers steam as it goes along, and it’s dramatic enough, but the interpretive choice as far as the first section goes is striking. There’s less contrast with the rest of it than I’m used to – and yet when performed like this the aria does say something different than it usually does. I’m still undecided on whether I think this interpretive move makes sense.
There are also some parts of this opera that are different from normal and it’s not just a matter of sound quality or interpretation. We hear the often omitted Elizabeth/Eboli duet in Act IV, which sounds so quiet and ethereal in parts – and then it moves into some deeper, uneasy orchestral music as Eboli confesses the Other Big Thing She Did.* And then Elizabeth leaves the room and after some sad clarinetting (the woodwind players really get a chance to shine in this opera) Lerma is the one who asks Eboli to give up her cross, the sign that she has been banished from court.
I think that this is less effective than having Elizabeth be the one to ask for the cross back. After all, the whole previous scene is about the two of them and the idea of womanly virtue, and what is forgivable and what is not. And before that, we’ve had the whole complicated and emotionally claustrophobic and intense quartet that’s about the relationships among all the main characters and then BAM HEY there’s Lerma. It’s weird.
Eboli also pops up again in the finale of Act IV, where the people rise up to free Carlos from prison. Normally, Eboli shows up only briefly in this scene to help Carlos get away (I know she has one brief line in some versions, but in others if memory serves she’s either silent or not there at all); it’s usually only implied that the insurrection is Eboli’s doing, since she says in “O don fatal” that she would use her last day of pre-convent freedom to help Carlos. But here, she has more music, a whole series of lines in which she straight up tells Elizabeth, “see, I TOLD YOU I loved him; look what I did.”
So. This recording is interesting for the material that it includes, and because there are far fewer recordings of this opera in French than there are Italian (I wonder, has the ENO ever done it in English? I’d totally listen to that just for the hell of it, though it would probably be weird to hear these people singing about “oh, fatal gift!” or “ah, she never loved me!” or “don’t cry, my dear companion . . .”) but I don’t know if it’s one to seek out in and of itself. Besides, new it’s about $100. I got it used for $60, but even with the lovely shiny booklet with all the pictures (including 16th century portraits, including Eboli WITH eyepatch, thank you) and the French libretto and the story about the original words at the beginning of “o don fatale” I would certainly understand it if a person preferred to spend $60 on something else.