Verdi’s ‘Don Carlos’ arrives at the Met Opera in original French

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David Rosen entered the Library-Museum of the Opéra National de France in the summer of 1968 and requested the original materials for the premiere of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Don Carlos” at the Paris Opera in 1867.

When delivering the handwritten copy of the score to the Opera, the musicologist found several cuts, including an unknown passage in a key duet between King Philip II and Rodrigue, the Marquis of Posa, which was missing from the handwritten score. by Verdi. The passage was hugged, removed by Verdi before opening night to allow the public to catch the last train of the night, a 12:35 a.m. to the suburbs.

“He was hiding in plain sight,” the 83-year-old retired Cornell professor recalled to The Associated Press.

The Metropolitan Opera presents the original French version for the first time from Monday evening after 217 performances of the extensively revised and translated Italian version better known as “Don Carlo”. The eighth and final performance on March 26 will be shown in theaters around the world.

“The color of language is more embedded in what we do in French,” said Yannick Nézet-Séguin, French-Canadian music director at the Met. “The consonants are very expressive in French. You can lengthen them further. You can also shorten them. You can detonate them more or less. And I have the impression that it subtly but constantly changes the impression that the listener will have when listening to a great Verdi melody. In Italian, of course, the consonants are important, but it’s much more rooted in the vowel.

“Don Carlos”, Verdi’s second Parisian commission after “Les vêpres siciliennes” in 1855, respects the great form of opera demanded by the Parisians: five acts, including a ballet. The Met adaptation uses the original libretto by Joseph Méry and Camille du Locle which includes elements of Friedrich Schiller’s “Don Carlos” plus a first act in the forest of Fontainebleau and a searing third act of Heretics based on the play Eugène Cormon ‘Philip II, King of ‘Spain’.

The Met has also restored many elements of the original.

Six superior singers are indispensable: a soprano (Sonya Yoncheva), a mezzo-soprano (Jamie Barton), a tenor (Matthew Polenzani), a baritone (Etienne Dupuis) ​​and two basses (Eric Owens and John Relyea).

A family drama worthy of a Netflix series is stuck. Carlos, the Prince of Asturias, is betrothed to the Frenchwoman Élisabeth de Valois, but the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis called for Elisabeth to marry Carlos’ father, Philip of Spain. Princess Eboli, a member of the court, has an affair with Philippe; Carlos confronts his father with a sword when defending the Flemings, and Rodrigue sides with the king and forces his friend to give up the weapon. The king is caught between his own power and that of the Catholic Church, exercised by a 90-year-old blind grand inquisitor.

“Don Carlos” is Verdi’s longest opera at over five uncut hours, with intermissions. The February 24, 1867 rehearsal included 3 hours and 47 minutes of music until 12:23 a.m., and on March 9 the music was cut back by 19 minutes, according to research by Andrew Porter, citing La Gazzetta Musicale. di Milano and L’Art Musical.

Following the findings of Rosen and Porter, Ricordi published a complete edition for vocal piano by Ursula Günther in 1974 which included versions repeated in 1866 and 1867, the first on March 11, 1867 and the second performance two days later with revisions of 1884. and 1886.

Verdi’s “Don Carlos” Critical Edition in 31 volumes from the University of Chicago Press will be edited by Gabriel Dotto and will probably contain a Parisian score and Italian editions of four acts (Milan 1883) and five (Modena 1886). Dotto said his task was to decide which cuts were made at Verdi’s request and which “were imposed instead for entirely pragmatic reasons”.

The Met took as sources the rehearsal material and the opening night of 1866 and 1867, mixing them with markup parts that much of the orchestra had used during the 2015 revival in identical passages to the Italian in four acts.

“Many operas are puzzles that we librarians have to put together, which is one of the things I love most about our job,” Wendy Skoczen, the Met’s chief librarian, said in an email. . “Without a doubt, it is one of the most complicated works in the standard repertoire and particularly for Verdi.

For acting principal clarinet Jessica Phillips, hearing French lyrics when Italian words are in her music can sometimes be disconcerting.

“It’s very different, especially for the wind players,” she said. “Vowel length and consonant repetition in French are faster.”

When orchestra rehearsals began on February 14, Nézet-Séguin shortened a sixteenth note here, lengthened an eighth note there as he sang the chant — including the Celestial Voice ending the auto-da-fé. Just before Eboli’s “O don fatal”, the conductor remarked to principal bassoon William Short how “it’s very different without the bub bub bub of the trumpets”.

Marking an adjustment when Posa passed away, Nézet-Séguin quipped: “It’s not really clear in the score, so I made the executive decision. I will tell Giuseppe one day.

Dupuis performed Rodrigo in Italian in Berlin in December and has to struggle with muscle memory when phrases begin at different rhythms, notes are lengthened, words are reversed in translation and pronunciation is altered, such as “sire”.

“Accidents always happen,” he said.

An example of the transformed mood is the end of the Carlos-Élisabeth duet, sung a semitone lower in 1867 French.

“It’s calmer. She goes to the convent and he goes to war, and it’s like: it’s okay, it’s our destiny,” Dupuis said. “Whereas in Italian it feels like they rip their hearts out.”

The Met drops the opening lumberjacks – among the sections dropped by Verdi to shorten the running time – and the ballet La Pérégrina. It includes the second act duet between Rodrigue and Carlos, the fourth act scene between Eboli, Élisabeth and Le Comte de Lerme, and the fourth act finale. The fifth-act finale uses a quieter version of the monks rather than the louder 1884 revision, which is scheduled for the November Italian revival.

While the Met has given up presenting “Vêpres” by Stefan Herheim at Covent Garden, Nézet-Séguin hopes to put a French production back on track. The rehearsal process for “Don Carlos” struck a chord for him.

“Hearing it as a whole,” he said, “I feel like there’s more fluidity in the French.”

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