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Don Carlo-The Opera

Music composed by Giuseppe Verdi; Original French Libretto by Francois Joseph Mery and Camille du Locle; Conducted by Yannick Nezet-Seguin; Directed by J. Knighten Smit

Produced by The Metropolitan Opera, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and the Norwegian Opera and Ballet

Opera, Revival
Runs through 4.25.15
The Metropolitan Opera, 30 Lincoln Center Plaza


by Cindy Pierre on 4.7.15

A scene from Verdi's Don Carlo. Photo by Ken Howard.


BOTTOM LINE: As the Spanish Inquisition unfolds, a man toils in pain after the woman first promised to him is later given to his father in marriage.

In the year 1560, there is much ado about establishing peace between and within the nations of Western Europe. Some are lowering their arms by brute religious force, while others are pacified through political marriages. Caught between both forms of negotiation is Don Carlo (impressive tenor Yonghoon Lee), son and heir to King Philip II (bass Ferruccio Furlanetto), the King of Spain. To unite Spain with France, the two countries have brokered a marriage between the prince and Elisabeth (soprano Barbara Frittoli), the daughter of the French king. Things seem to be progressing nicely at first. They quickly fall in love and are excited to be wed. That is, until the powers that be lower the boom and they realize that things have changed. Elisabeth is now promised to Don Carlo’s father. Spirits rise and fall quickly in the first act of The Metropolitan Opera’s splendid production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Don Carlo.

The opening sequences of this tragic opera are crucial for the patron to stay invested in this 4+ hour saga (with intermissions), and thankfully, they are very well-executed. Without Lee’s charm and Frittoli’s strength and enthusiasm, it would be hard to withstand the misery that ensues. But those moments of shared bliss are enough to sustain you through all the disappointments and pain that follow their brief happiness.

Like onion layers, set and costume designer Bob Crowley unveils scene after scene that makes us marvel at his genius while simultaneously creating a backdrop for moments that make us want to cry or sigh. Though the trees in the queen’s gardens in Act III are too flat and one dimensional, Crowley succeeds everywhere else. From the barren forest that gives us a great illusion of depth to the somber, almost grim reaper-like setting at the monastery, Crowley knows how to create a variety of moods.

And the moods and feelings are numerous. From the creepiness that Emperor Charles V’s ghost elicits at the monastery of St. Just to the admiration that you will most likely feel for Rodrigo’s (baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky) friendship towards Don Carlo, Don Carlo has multiple dimensions. Even the heavy-handedness and oppression of the Catholic Church, conveyed through various moments between the ruling bodies and church leaders that are alternately conniving and horrific, will either leave you in shock or disgust.

But the settings are not the only production element that characterizes the era well. Crowley’s costumes are magnificent, evoking a flamenco look that is both dramatic and sultry. One character who shines in her fabulous garb is Princess Eboli (mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Gubanova). As the villainess in this drama, Gubanova is captivating both in her song and her actions, and draping her in red and black makes her that much more enchanting.

Even more delightful than the costumes is the singing. Skillful and compelling singers, the entire multi-racial and multi-national cast all make Don Carlo an experience that is likely to be raved about among opera aficionados and novices alike.

Though some may find Don Carlo’s running time to be too long and the pacing of the show to be a little drawn out, it is still an awe-inspiring production that contains everything that one would expect from a successful opera: intrigue, grandeur, beauty, lush sets, a prism of feelings, and most importantly, hopeless and unconsummated passion and love.

(Don Carlo plays at The Metropolitan Opera, 30 Lincoln Center Plaza, through April 25, 2015. Performances are 4/11 at 12PM; 4/15 at 7PM; 4/18 at 12PM; 4/22 at 7PM; 4/25 at 7PM. Tickets are $35-$475. To purchase tickets and for more show information, please visit or call 212-362-6000.)