Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Don Carlo Version, SFO

Verdi's great opera Don Carlo(s), by far his most ambitious work, went through many revisions, starting with the excision of some music during rehearsals at the Opera de Paris. The composer prepared additional performing versions of the score; sometimes it is presented in French, sometimes in Italian.

For your preseason research pleasure, I asked San Francisco Opera which version they'd be performing. It is the five-act Modena version of 1886. It includes the Fontainebleau scene, but not the scene where Elisabetta and Eboli change veils, which explains the subsequent scene where Carlo mistakes Eboli for Elisabetta. You can read the official synopsis on the SFO web site.

(I am reasonably sure that at some point SFO presented a version that included the scene in the Fontainebleau act with Elisabetta and the woodcutters, but who knows? I may be making this up. It was one of the pre-premiere cuts that Verdi himself made.)


Robert Gordon said...

I don't think SFO ever did the woodcutters' scene, but I'm also not completely sure about that. Anyway, this is good news -- someone had told me that the 4-act version would be done, so I'm glad that's not so.

My preferred edition would be Modena plus the two scenes you mention, but in French. I really don't see the need for any of the other extra material, certainly not the Requiem Lacrimosa, which is just distracting.

Several years ago some singer friends and I really studied the King's Chamber scene, to see how the Italian and French versions compare. Basically, the Italian translators modify the vocal line in the recitatives, adding extra notes and altering rhythms to fit a fairly literal translation of the French, while in the arias they do the opposite: leaving the vocal line unchanged while creating an Italian text full of bad translationese and misplaced accents ("tu che LE vanità" versus "toi qui SUS le néant"). SFO has done it in French in the past -- this seems a step backwards.

So maybe Yannick Nézet-Séguin will replace James Levine and the Met can finally do Don Carlos in the original language. Wouldn't that be swell.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I'd be very curious to hear a superset production of the opera, with all cuts restored and in French. I mean, including the stuff cut in rehearsal. It would be as long as Meistersinger!

One question that comes to mind about the bad Italian translation: what is keeping Italian houses from commissioning a better translation? It's a translation and there is no reason to stick with a bad one.

Robert Gordon said...

The first recording in French (Abbado, Domingo, Ricciarelli, Raimondi, etc. on DG) is a very full version, with a big appendix, and is pretty much what you want. Unfortunately, there is not a single Francophone in the cast, and the level of French diction and style is not very high, which kind of loses the point of the effort. Still, it will answer your questions.

I think the reason opera houses stick with Italian is that that's what the singers already know, and they don't want to learn a new version -- it's harder to do that than to learn an entirely new work from scratch. This also stands in the way of a new Italian translation.

Verdi's final 4-act revision is one of his great achievements, along the same lines as the Simon Boccanegra and Macbeth revisions, but more thorough and without the feeling of jumping back and forth between early and late Verdi. The 5-act Modena version consists of attaching the original, unrevised first act (1867) to the later 4-act revision (1883), so there is a style discontinuity between the first act and the rest. If you want to include very much of the earlier material in the later acts, you end up undoing the revisions and damaging that great late-Verdi intensity and sophistication. That's why I think the Met makes a good choice in leaving Acts 2-5 alone (but the Elisabeth/Eboli scene is short and doesn't really do any harm, while clearing up a bit of plot confusion).

An important point is that Verdi did the revision also in French, working with a French librettist. Except for a few lines in one of the intermediate versions, which were subsequently removed, he never had anything to do with the Italian text.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I've got the Abbado, on LP, obtained used, and probably have not heard it. Might be time to haul it out, or maybe get it on CD where I'd be able to program the version!

That is a very good point about both Italian and the particular Italian version. When SF did it in French, last time around, the originally-scheduled tenor turned up knowing only the Italian and had to be replaced in a big hurry with an available but not-very-good singer who did know the French (presumably the cover....).

On the other hand, ENO replaced the Porter Ring translation with the vastly inferior Jeremy Sams and singers were willing to learn it.....

Darrick Chen said...

My first Don Carlo (Italian) in 1992, SFO, I'm pretty sure had the woodcutter's scene you refer to. It's just a non-singing event at the very beginning of the opera where Elizabetta hands out coins to the poor.

This was that wretched Don Carlo with the truly ugly sets where these corpses/ghosts?? were on racks that made up the background. I read somewhere that they were supposed to represent the people who were executed during the Inquisition and bore witness to the events.

I don't think the new Don Carlo - shiny black sets featured this short scene. It opens with Don Carlo singing an aria to a miniature of Fontainbleau. Never quite figured that out.

The scene I wish they would add back to the performance is Eboli and Elizabetta switching costumes or at least veils so that Don Carlo's declaration of love to Eboli makes more sense. With the current staging it just makes Carlo look like an idiot as he can't tell that it's not the queen.

Somewhere in my CD collection I have the french version with Matilla and Algana I believe - live performance. They sang it in Paris somewhere in the 2000s. Haven't heard it in a long time. Can't recall much other than it sounds very different from the Italian version.


Robert Gordon said...

Darrick: That pantomime at the start of Act 1 is not the woodcutter's scene we've been discussing. The actual scene starts with a very nice little chorus for the woodcutters. The pantomime you saw is there to make the plot point (the sufferings of the poor) without including the music.