Don Carlo Verdi

Martynas Aleksa

They sit in a row: six heretics condemned to death, sporting only their underwear and paper bags over their heads. They sit on tiny stools, suspended several feet above the stage, strapped to an enormous vertical plank. And they stay there, without budging, for half the performance, until the auto-da-fé, when the plank suddenly tips, and they crawl, skywards, into a furnace. It’s the most memorable part of Günter Krämer’s new, abridged Don Carlo for Lithuanian National Opera. It instantly cranks up the tension, providing a visceral symbol of the Spanish Inquisition. Krämer, who is allergic to operatic cliché, has taken David Bowie’s video for Black Star as his starting point, threading its images through his production. This Don Carlo, like Bowie, wears bandages over his eyes; what is the connection to Verdi’s Romantic hero? Apparently Krämer went back to historical sources, and the real life Carlo who, in many historians’ view, was justly spurned by his father for his inferior qualities and dubious mental health. Carlo refuted his father’s judgement, demanding recognition and power. Could the bandages symbolise the protagonist’s blindness to his own limitations? In any case they fit the mood of unremitting pessimism. Krämer’s is a world inhabited by emotionally starved, disconnected characters, who make a point of occupying different areas of the stage, and rarely even look at each other. Herbert Schäfer’s set is a bleak, stark structure, soaked in eerie, greenish lighting – another nod to Bowie. We’re repeatedly faced with the same projection: an Excel-style spreadsheet, displaying numbers of executions per Spanish city during the Inquisition. In terms of stagecraft, it’s original; in terms of message, it smacks of overkill. So all credit to the singers for preserving some sense of variety. Viktorija Miškuˉ naite˙ manages to pack despair, longing, pride, into her Elisabeth, without once compromising on her fruity tone. As Philip II, Askar Abdrazakov has the right blend of authority and vulnerability. Egle˙ Šidlauskaite˙ is a sleek, elegant Eboli; Valdis Jansons, a suave-toned Rodrigo. As for the lead, American tenor Adam Diegel, he takes Carlo’s inner conflicts to heart, making us believe in every ardent protestation, in spite of the stiffness of the staging. For all his vocal lustre and power, however, he is still outmatched by the chorus and orchestra who, galvanised by conductor Pierre Vallet, consistently grab Verdi’s score by the lapels.

Hannah NepilOpera Now