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Verdi’s “Don Carlos” At The Metropolitan Opera, Friday, March 18th, 2022, Reviewed

The first warm day in six months is a pleasure and the 630pm start of Verdi’s “Don Carlos” is a way to celebrate, but the five hour opera, performed in its original French (very rare) is much more like a world of complete devastation: “For the first time in company history, the Met presents the original five-act French version of Verdi’s epic opera of doomed love among royalty, set against the backdrop of the Spanish Inquisition.” It is a great opera, yet it is a tragedy and an epic, mostly sung as pas de deux and while it starts with the Prince Of Spain’s Don Carlos (the excellent baritone Matthew Polenzani) meeting his arranged wife to be, Elizabeth of France (Sonya Yoncheva), and they fall in love. Everything is hunky dory until he is informed that the King, his father, wants her for himself and before the end of the first act which makes her his step-mother), and till the end of the fifth act, everything that can go wrong does go wrong. And as it happens, there is a bitter war ending between Spain and France with the marriage.

This production doesn’t shy from the homosexual subtext between Don Carlos and his best friend Rodrigue, the Marquis of Posa (sung by Etienne Dupuis) and the highlight of the entire five hours (well, four plus two half hours of intermission), and the highlight of the evening “Dieu, tu semas dans nos âmes”.

Canadian conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin and director David McVicar have crafted a powerful and very somber tragedy from a world where only nine years earlier Bizet changed what could and couldn’t be done in an opera. As an opera dilettante I found “Don Carlos” tough going, the music was, of course, stunning and yet it is dramatic and sad and the story is relentlessly downbeat and ends in even more tragedy. The wrong opera at the wrong time.

Grade: B

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