Friday 4 July 2008

Don Carlo(s)

To Covent Garden last night for the final performance of their new production of Verdi's Don Carlos in the 5-Act Modena Version done in Italian translation. A review follows, but here I'll let off steam a little again about the Opera House's obfuscation about language.

In their magazine, About the House some months ago there was an article about the forthcoming production of Don Carlos with interviews with Hyntner and Pappano. They said that they had chosen to perform the Italian version because it was more dramatic. What they actually meant was that they preferred to perform the Modena version because it was more dramatic. There is in fact no Italian version of Don Carlos, simply a translation of the French version. Whenever he made revisions to the opera Verdi worked in French. When he made the compact 4-act version for Milan he went to some trouble to get revisions (in French) to the French libretto and worked similarly when adding the original Act 1 (in compressed format) to this version for Modena. Also when working on the version for Milan he ensured that the Italian translation was updated.

In the programme notes, Christopher Wintle states that Verdi worked on the French version for Milan in 1884, but does not make it clear that the 1886 Modena version is an Italian translation of the French version.

In fact, in an interview in last month's opera Feruccio Furlanetto (who sings King Philip in the production), comments that whilst most singers prefer singing the opera in Italian, the academics and some critics prefer it in French.

Here is the nub, of course. Covent Garden are doing the 1886 version because it is the most dramatic version, Verdi's last thoughts. They are doing it in Italian not because this is correct, but because it is easier to cast; dramatic Verdi operas are difficult to cast at the best of times and to ensure a good, balanced cast you probably have to compromise on language. Another point is the parlous state of singing in French at the moment; last night's performance included 2 Italians, an American, 2 Englishmen, a Mexican and a Russian - what are the chances of getting good French out of such a polyglot cast whereas their Italian seemed most credible.

Opera managements seem to want to divide Don Carlo(s) into the 1867 French version and the 1884/6 Italian versions. This might be convenient, but its not true.

Evidently the 2009/10 revival will include Jonas Kauffman as Don Carlo, what chances of this being in French?

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