DON CARLOS by Giuseppe Verdi, directed by John Caird, conducted by Paolo Olmi (Canadian Opera Company). At the Four Seasons Centre (145 Queen West). To November 3. $60-$275, youth discounts. 416-363-8231. Rating: NNNN
Verdi's Don Carlos emphasizes the "grand" in grand opera.
Filled with stirring arias and ensembles, several great choral numbers and lots of passion, it requires a world-class production, and the Canadian Opera Company provides most of the ingredients.
At the centre of the work (the five-act French version) is a romantic triangle, with the snag that the young lovers - Carlos of Spain and Elizabeth of France - are thwarted when, for political reasons, Elizabeth is wed to Carlos's father, Philippe II. Add the Princess Eboli, who also loves Carlos, and Carlos's friend Rodrigue, who urges him to take up the cause of Flemish revolutionaries, and the various plots and counterplots up the dramatic ante.
Don Carlos is driven by love, politics and religion. It's hard to escape that last element in Johan Engels's set, which turns the trees of Fontainebleau and the wood of a bonfire into crucifixes large and small. The power of the Church is felt throughout: people cross themselves regularly, crucifixes turn red as blood is shed, and the tyrannical, haunting character of the Spanish Grand Inquisitor influences the action. And how often do you see an auto-da-fé - that old Spanish ritual of public penance - onstage?
Carl Friedrich Oberle's often modern costumes (you're reminded of Mafiosi and Franco's military) emphasize gold and black, with vibrant red adding visual drama.
Director John Caird's vivid reading adds a grisly note to the ending. Paolo Olmi's conducting is sometimes measured rather than passionate.
Don Carlos is a piece that requires six first-rate singers, and this production scores on five counts. Adrianne Pieczonka is lyrical and committed as Elizabeth, and Terje Stensvold is just as commanding as her jealous husband, Philippe. Scott Hendricks brings some of the evening's best acting to Rodrigue, with a voice that's also engaging.
Ayk Martirossian's Grand Inquisitor oozes menace; his duet with Stensvold is a show highlight. And though Guang Yang's Eboli starts tentatively, her singing and acting later blossom.
Too bad Mikhail Agafonov has little vocal colour - his range is loud and louder - and a stolid acting style that rarely matches Pieczonka's emotional involvement.