CLASSICAL MUSIC CRITIC
(out of 4)
By Giuseppe Verdi. Canadian Opera Company. Conducted by Paolo Olmi. Directed by John Caird. To Nov. 3 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen St. W.
We all know that it's not safe to go to the movies, or the opera house, for a history lesson. Instead, for the price of admission, we expect to be transported to somewhere beyond our day-to-day world.
In the case of the original Don Carlos by 19th-century Italian opera composer Giuseppe Verdi, it's a 3 3/4-hour trip through the emotional and social havoc created by an egotistical, absolute monarch.
The opera's depiction of 16th-century Spanish King Philip II, son Don Carlos, third wife Elisabeth de Valois, intrigue at the Spanish court, the Inquisition and pleas from oppressed people in Flanders is based in fact.
But librettists Joseph Méry and Camille du Locle crafted an uneasy mix of grand spectacle and personal pathos for the five-act work commissioned for the Paris Exposition of 1867.
Verdi revisited his score several times after the premiere, eventually settling on a much shorter Italian version for Milan in 1884.
In either version, this is Verdi at the height of his powers, pushing the right emotional button at the right moment. But it takes a rare combination of talent and skill to balance the grand with the personal, to make an emotional impact without clobbering the audience, to move the story forward without truncating the arc of each scene.
The choruses are rousing. The solos, duets, trios and larger ensemble passages build and release tension so imperceptibly that the listener is experiencing the emotional reaction well before realizing how the manipulation has come about.
Best of all, despite Verdi's reputation for a heavy orchestral hand, the most powerful effects are wrought with solo melodies: a cello here, an oboe there. READ MORE