Review: Verdi’s Don Carlos Goes the Distance at Lyric Opera

The Lyric Opera in Chicago is at the forefront of opera productions on the world stage. It’s right up there with La Scala in Milan or the Met in New York. In fact, the Met just ran a truncated production in four acts of Don Carlos in Italian, which was a later iteration of the work, but still in five acts. The Lyric presented a lush and beautiful five acts that lived up to their status as a great opera house.

The company of Don Carlos featuring Dmitry Belosselskiy and Joshua Guerrero. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Don Carlos is a story of faith over the fanaticism of the Spanish Inquisition. It is also a story of a powerful king in cahoots with the Roman Catholic church to cement his place in heaven. It is also a story of love denied for duty with tragic results. There is also conniving, jealousy, double crossing, and some fantastic singing. Prince Carlos (Joshua Guerrero) waits in a dark church for his betrothed Elisabeth (Rachel Willis-Sørensen) to gift her a locket with his picture in it. They are soon told that Elisabeth will instead marry Carlos’ father Phillipe II (Dmitry Belosselskiy). Carlos watches as his love accepts his father’s proposal, which is more like a command.

Clémentine Margaine and Rachel Willis-Sørensen. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Guerrero has a full and smooth tenor that is free of brassiness. The singers had to compete with the orchestra drowning out some quieter phrases. That is a feat considering that they are not wearing microphones. Sørensen has a powerful soprano that is nimble and clear up to the highest notes. The acting is also very good between Guerrero and Sørensen. Their relationship comes across as passionate and tortured without veering into dreaded maudlin.

Igor Golovatenko is a wonderful and expressive baritone in his Lyric debut as Carlos’ best friend Rodrigue. He brings a great voice and good acting chops to the stage. He and Guerrero also have a fine chemistry that projects a brotherly love and there are not any off notes in the difficult counterpoint duets. The best role—in my opinion–belongs to the character of Eboli who is sung with delicious tone and perfect phrasing by mezzosoprano Clémentine Margaine. She sings a naughty song to the other ladies in waiting about a Moor who entices a queen. Margaine’s perfection of the melisma in Verdi’s music was something I have not heard since Renee Fleming or Kathleen Battle.

Soloman Howard and Dmitry Belosselskiy. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Dmitry Belosselskiy is wonderful as the sad king who mourns that his wife does not love him. His wonderful bass reaches the lowest depths with ease as he mourns a son who is seeking to help the people of Flanders who are being burned as heretics by the Inquisition. Phillipe is a man of his time where conquering and bloodshed are rewarded in heaven. Of course, the pope and his emissaries live in opulence and wield great political power, and it behooves them to keep the blood flowing. The king’s Grand Inquisitor is played by another great bass, Soloman Howard. Verdi wrote a great musical passage between the Grand Inquisitor and Phillipe II for two bass singers. Mention must be made of Lindsey Reynolds who is a first-year member of the Ryan Center, which is an incubator of opera singers here in Chicago. She is not seen on stage but Ms. Reynolds is heard as the heavenly Voice from Above that invites the burned heretics and star-crossed lovers to peace in eternity. Her soprano is ethereal and even more haunting as a mysterious entity—perhaps an angel.

The Lyric is also renowned for gorgeous costumes, wigs, and astounding sets. I have been backstage and touched Dame Joan Sutherland’s velvet gown; it weighed about 50 pounds and the tailoring was exquisite. The costumes for Don Carlos are designed by Brigitte Rieffenstuel, and they are magnificent. The color theme was a grey scale of varying whites to deepest black. Robert Jones’ set design was a study in moody dark colors with flashes of maroon and deep greens. It is the perfect set for a dark and horrific time in history being portrayed in Don Carlos.

Verdi has been a favorite composer for over two centuries, having written masterpieces such as Aida, Nabucco, and La Traviata. I have seen most of them except for his Requiem and Don Carlos. Now that I have experienced Don Carlos, it just adds to my love of his music. The Lyric never disappoints with great productions and excellent musicianship. The Lyric Orchestra is led by Enrique Mazzola, an ebullient maestro who stepped into the venerable shoes of Sir Andrew Davis. The Lyric chorus is full of amazing singers led by Michael Black. I highly recommend Don Carlos and it is worth your time to see at least one opera at Lyric. There is drama, beautiful music, and a feast for the eyes.

Don Carlos plays through November 25 at the Lyric Opera in the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive. Tickets start at $50. Please check the Lyric website for more information on the season and the wonderful work that they do throughout the year in education and enriching lives through music. www.lyricopera.org.

For more information on this and other productions, see www.theatreinchicago.com.

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Kathy D. Hey
Kathy D. Hey

Kathy D. Hey writes creative non-fiction essays. A lifelong Chicagoan, she is enjoying life with her husband, daughter and three dogs in the wilds of Edgewater. When she isn’t at her computer, she is in her garden growing vegetables and herbs for kitchen witchery.

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