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Heretics Fry, Alagna Shines in ‘Don Carlo’: Manuela Hoelterhoff

Roberto Alagna in Verdi's
Roberto Alagna in Verdi's "Don Carlo" at the Metropolitan Opera. Photographer: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera via Bloomberg

Nov. 27 (Bloomberg) -- Head over to the Metropolitan Opera with a sack of cash to buy your way into the new production of Verdi’s “Don Carlo” with the sensational Roberto Alagna in the title role.

This very grand opera, skillfully adapted from Schiller’s eloquent play, is in repertoire at Lincoln Center through Dec. 18, with performances this Monday and Friday.

Looking fabulous in puffy 16th-century shorts, doublet and boots, the tenor sings his heart out as the doomed prince who loses bride Elisabeth to his awful father, King Philip II of Spain.

As you may remember, Philip grumps around the Escorial palace looking for heretics under his bed. Every day is a good day for an auto-da-fe, as far as Philip is concerned. The opera’s anguished mortals spend almost five hours tormented by church and state.

All the while, they sing music so glorious not one minute seems superfluous. A high point is a huge ensemble scene that culminates with Philip presiding over a heretic bonfire as Carlo and Elisabeth look on in horror.

It made a big effect at the Nov. 22 opening, though this generally engrossing production by director Nicholas Hytner and designer Bob Crowley is hardly a budget buster. Shared by Oslo’s opera and London’s Covent Garden, the show features expensively handsome period costumes, but also a lot of walls and a raked stage with no elevations.

Big Barbecue

Couldn’t some rich opera patron have bought them a staircase or two? Or a few more trees for the twee-looking forest of Fontainebleau?

Fortunately, the wonderfully moody lighting by Mark Henderson often gives empty space a poetic dimension, especially in scenes set in the cloister of St. Just where Carlo sings his last goodbye to Elisabeth and the world.

By which time, Alagna still sounded fresh as he embraced Marina Poplavskaya, nearly his equal in stamina and elegant appearance, though the voice could use more personality.

As Carlo’s other great love, the worldly Marquis de Posa, Simon Keenlyside was riveting in the intensity of his delivery and endearingly awkward bows. Ferruccio Furlanetto made Philip’s monologue flow with sorrowful beauty.

His bristling meeting with the Grand Inquisitor brought on the impressive Eric Halfvarson -- a palsied mass of hate. The bright-voiced Anna Smirnova made an auspicious Met debut, though Princess Eboli requires a more Italianate sound and also a prettier dress.

In the pit, Yannick Nezet-Seguin brought urgency and passion to Verdi’s greatest score.

The Met is at Lincoln Center, Broadway at 66th St. Information: +1-212-362-2000; http://www.metopera.org/

(Manuela Hoelterhoff is executive editor of Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)

To contact the writer on this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff in New York at Mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Beech at mbeech@bloomberg.net.

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