50 seasons after debut, Maazel returns to Met

AP News
Posted: Feb 24, 2013 3:48 PM
50 seasons after debut, Maazel returns to Met

NEW YORK (AP) — While Lorin Maazel isn't slowing down, his tempi are based on the performance of Verdi's "Don Carlo" he led to mark the 50th anniversary season of his Metropolitan Opera debut.

Now 82, the former music director of the Cleveland Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and New York Philharmonic conducted an alternately elegant and disjointed opening of the revival Friday night.

The spectacle of the third act auto-da-fe was spacious, the trumpets grand. Confrontations were charged.

Other moments slowed to a crawl, such as Eboli's "O don fatale" and Elisabeth's "Tu che le vanita," sapping the drama. There were tentative entrances, with the singers having trouble adjusting to his pacing. But overall, it was a largely effective account of Verdi's longest work, which stretches over five acts and 4 1/2 hours.

Maazel has spanned several generations — his November 1962 Met debut in Mozart's "Don Giovanni" featured a cast that included Cesare Siepi in the title role. After that season, when he also conducted Strauss' "Der Rosenkavalier,'" Maazel did not return to the Met until a revival of Wagner's "Die Walkuere" five years ago.

"Don Carlo," based on Friedrich Schiller's play, details the court of 16th century Spain. King Philip II, son of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, married the French Princess Elisabeth de Valois, who had been engaged to Philip's son, Carlo. There is tension between the crown and the church, and Philip's court is filled with rebellion and affairs.

Maazel was given a top cast, with Ramon Vargas in the title role, Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Rodrigo, Ferruccio Furlanetto as Philip II, Barbara Frittoli as Elisabeth, Anna Smirnova as Eboli and Eric Halfvarson as the Grand Inquisitor. Furlanetto, Smirnova and Halfvarson were holdovers from the production's first appearance at the Met in November 2010.

His long, white hair draping over a dark costume, Hvorostovsky was dashing and his baritone thrilling. His "Dio, che nell'alma infondere" duet with Vargas won a huge ovation, topped only by the applause for his "O Carlo, ascolta" death scene.

Furlanetto was moving in his "Ella giammai m'amo!" and his confrontation with Halfvarson, who portrayed the angry, 90-year-old blind inquisitor. Furlanetto's hoarse reminder to Rodrigo "Guarda dal Grande Inquisitor!" was chilling.

Frittoli's Elisabeth grew from vulnerable girl to scorned royalty. Smirnova sang with far more energy and security than two seasons ago. Vargas' tenor was slightly lacking in heft for this role in a house as large as the Met, but he sang with color and import.

Nicholas Hytner's staging, which premiered at London's Royal Opera in 2008, is dark and brooding. Some of Bob Crowley's sets fall flat, such as a garden that looks as if made out of Legos. Using a five-act version sung in Italian, Hytner cuts about seven minutes involving the woodcutter's chorus at the start of the first-act Fontainebleau scene, music Verdi also trimmed before the 1867 Paris opening but was restored for John Dexter's 1979 Met production.

Hytner invented an unnecessary and intrusive spoken-word priest who rants at the prisoners in the third act, although his role is shorter than in the Covent Garden presentation.

There are six more performances through March 16, with the March 9 matinee broadcast on radio.