Monte-Carlo Opera presents Don Carlo, in a new production by Davide Livermore of Giuseppe Verdi’s dramatic and moving story of passion, betrayal, political intrigue and conflict between father and son.
The opera stars Russian tenor Sergey Skorokhodov in the title role, with Russian bass Ildar Abdrazakov as his father, Filippo II, king of Spain. Elisabetta di Valois, with whom Don Carlo has fallen in love, is sung by Lebanese-Canadian soprano Joyce El-Khoury, and the role of La Principessa Eboli who is in love with Don Carlo, is taken by Armenian mezzo-soprano Varduhi Abrahamyan. Polish baritone Artur Ruciński is Rodrigo, marquis of Posa and Carlo’s friend, and Russian bass Alexey Tikhomirov is Il Grande Inquisitore. The production is led by Massimo Zanetti.
Verdi started writing his five-act opera in 1867, with a French libretto by Joseph Méry and Camille du Locle, based on Friedrich Schiller’s play Don Karlos, Infant von Spanien, which Schiller completed in 1787. The opera was commissioned and produced by the Théâtre Impérial de l’Opéra, Paris, and premiered at the Académie impériale de musique on 11th March 1867. Don Carlos – as it is known in the French version – was then translated into Italian as Don Carlo, in the first of a number of revisions set to both French and Italian librettos. This is the second version of the opera, compressed into four acts, and sung in Italian. It premiered at Teatro alla Scala, Milan, on 10th January, 1884.
Set in France and Spain between 1567 to 1568, the time of the Spanish Inquisition, the opera is largely fictional, although it features actual historical figures. Don Carlo is the son of King Philip II of Spain and therefore heir to the Spanish throne. Carlo is in love with Princess Elisabetta di Valois of France, but his hopes of marrying her are thwarted by his father, who – as part of a peace treaty signed between Spain and France – takes Elisabetta as his own wife. Undaunted, Carlo comes up against the conspiracies and intrigues of the royal court, and – with everyone under the watchful eye of the Grand Inquisitor – tension and paranoia abound, leading the king to suspect his wife of infidelity with Carlo.
Ultimately, Carlo has to make a choice between loyalty to his father and his love for Elisabetta. In actuality, Philip and Elizabeth apparently had a happy marriage, and the love story between Elizabeth and her stepson was invented by writer Friedrich von Schiller and exploited by Verdi for maximum dramatic impact.
The four acts of this drama are all located in Spain, however Monte-Carlo Opera has placed the prologue of the original version in Fontainebleau, and this is sung in French.
Sergey Skorokhodov comes to Monte-Carlo directly from the Bolshoi Theatre where he appeared in the title role in Don Carlo at the end of October. With a repertoire which includes those of Lenski in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, Nemorino in Donizetti’s Lelisir d’amore, Macduff in Verdi’s Macbeth, Alfredo in Verdi’s La traviata, Cavarodossi in Puccini’s Tosca, Calaf in Puccini’s Turandot and the tenor role in Rachmaninoff’s The Bells, he has also appeared on the stages of the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg, most of the major opera houses in Europe, and in the Glyndebourne and Edinburgh festivals. He was last seen in Monte-Carlo in Tchaikovsky’s Ioalanthe in 2015. Future appearances include a concert performance of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk at Carnegie Hall and the role of Ivan in The Nose – both works by Shostakovich – at the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich.
Ildar Abdrazakov, regarded as one of the greatest interpreters of the role of Filippo II, has become a firm favourite at the Metropolitan Opera, and is also a regular visitor to the Paris National Opera, the Vienna State Opera and Munich’s Bavarian State Opera. The Independent refers to him as a “sensational bass … who has just about everything – imposing sound, beautiful legato, oodles of finesse”. Having recently appeared as a soloist with Monte-Carlo Opera in Verdi’s Messa da Requiem, he will also participate this season in the Gala Verdiano at the Ravenna Festival, appear as Mustafa in Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri at Opernhuis Zurich, and at another performance in Verdi’s Messa da requiem at Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.
According to Presto Classical, Joyce El-Khoury is “Blessed with old-school vocal and physical glamour and a richly coloured flexible soprano that shines particularly brightly in Verdi, Bellini and Donizetti.” Immediately following this performance of Don Carlo, Joyce will appear in an Italian Opera Gala with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester in Berlin, as Christine, Queen of Sweden in Julien Bilodeau and Michel Marc Bouchard’s La Reine-garçon with Opéra de Montreal, and Maria Boccanegra in Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra at Finnish National Opera.
Following Varduhi Abrahamyan’s performance in Handel’s Ariodante in 2016, Plays to See wrote that as Polinesso, she “…. was sinister and chillingly violent while demonstrating a vocal mastery that was terrifyingly precise”. She last appeared with Monte-Carlo Opera in January of this year as Bradamante in Handel’s Alcina and also in concert in Rossini’s oratorio Stabat Mater. Following this appearance in Don Carlo, Ms Abrahamyan will perform the title role in Bizet’s Carmen at Gran Teatro del Liceu in Barcelona and at Oper Frankfurt, and in concert in Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis at Cité de la Musique-Philharmonie in Paris.
Having seen Artur Ruciński in Carl Orff’s Carmina Burina, the late music journalist Karl Löbl wrote: “Baritone Discovery at Vienna Musikverein – take note of the name Artur Ruciński and go to every opera in which you can hear this singer…”. Future plans include appearances at the Italian Opera Gala with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester in Berlin, as Renato/Count Ankarström in Verdi’s Un ballo in maschero at Teatro Regio di Parma in Barcelona and as Lord Enrico Ashton in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
Alexey Tikhomirov, he of the “…powerful vocal volume and the impressive interpretation”, according to Bachtrack, has appeared on the stages of many European and wider Asian concert halls and opera houses. Following these performances in Monte-Carlo, he returns to the Helicon Opera in Moscow where he will sing the role of Timur in Puccini’s Turandot, then to Frankfurt for performances as Chub in Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera Christmas Eve.
Also in the cast are Reinaldo Macias as Il Conte di Lerma, Madison Nonoa as Voce Dal Cielo, Salvo Vitale as Frate and Mirjam Mesa as Tebaldo.
Davide Livermore has been artistic director of the Teatro Baretti in Turin since 2002 where he focuses on experimental music theatre. He describes this production of Don Carlo as “A show that displays historical aesthetics with all modern technology”. Before returning to Monte-Carlo to direct a production of Handel’s Giulio Cesare in Egitto, he will fly to Brisbane where Opera Australia will stage his production of Verdi’s Aïda for which he will also do the choreography.
Massimo Zanetti has worked regularly with the Staatskapelle Berlin, for whom he will lead performances of Don Carlo and La bohème in the new year. Codelario describes him as an “electrifying and energetic conductor, who also understands how to charm with the most evocative lyricism”.
Maestro Zanetti leads the Monte-Carlo Opera Choir (choirmaster Stefano Visconti) and the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra in three performances of Verdi’s Don Carlo on 22nd, 24th and 26th November, at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco. For further information and booking details, see the Monte-Carlo Opera website.
Information sourced from
Monte-Carlo programme notes
A version of this article first appeared in Riviera Buzz