Friday 5 October 2007

Don Carlo - humph

The booklet about the Royal Opera House's next booking period has just arrived. This includes the premiere of Harrison Birtwistle's new opera, The Minotaur, Hurrah. Plus Nicholas Hyntner's new production of Verdi's Don Carlo. Humph.

The Humph is because the Royal Opera have decided to revert to the Italian translation. In an article Hyntner's says that he and Pappano chose the Italian version because it is more dramatic. What they actually mean is that Verdi's revised 5-act version is more dramatic, but in fact Verdi wrote it to a French text. He persisted in viewing Don Carlos as a French opera but it was performed in Italian translation in Italy because Verdi felt the opera should be performed in the local language.

After the premiere the opera was performed, in translation, in Italy. But was extensively cut. He made some modifications in the 1870's but in 1882/1883 he worked, in Paris, with a new librettist (Charles Nuttier) to create the more compact 4-act version. Some years later he sanctioned the use of the 1st Act (which meant making some adjustments to the opening act of the 4-act version). This is the so-called Modena version, the standard Italian version which is used. Except of course, none of the music was written for an Italian text, but a French text.

This is the version which the Royal Opera used last time, when they performed the opera in French. Except they introduced some passages from the original 1867 French version. This is a nonsense. I love the 1867 French version but this should not be mixed and matched with the later versions. Doing the Modena Version in the original French is the only sensible and proper course for a regular opera house.

Except, of course, it is very, very difficult to cast. So opera houses prefer using the Italian version. Pappano and Hyntner are using the Modena version, because it is more dramatic, shorter and Verdi's final thoughts on the opera. But they are singing it in Italian quite simply because it is easier to cast. Though only two of the major singers is Italian (Sonia Ganassi who is Eboli and Ferrucio Furlanetto as Philippo), the Carlos is Rolando Vilazon (couldn't he have learned it in French?), Elizabeth is Russian and Rodrigo is Simon Keenlyside.

Of course, singing in French is not the same as singing in good French. I still remember the version Domingo recorded in French (Modena Version with extra bits as an appendix), but very few of the singers actually sounded like they were singing in a known language. You only have to listen to Regine Crespin to understand what French singing should sound like. Or Callas, as Carmen, where she completely changes the sound of her voice and makes you realise how much she understood about the sound of sung French.

I can't wait for the production of course, but will wish it was in French.

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