Well, poor Don Carlo. His dad just became King of Spain, but, for the new prince, the price is steep. It turns out the King’s stolen away Carlo’s beloved French fiancee, and made her Queen.
Giuseppe Verdi’s opera, “Don Carlo” is loosely based on history but reads like a more political “Romeo and Juliet,” except the melodrama isn’t quite as pronounced.
The Austin Lyric Opera’s version, performed through Nov. 24 at the Long Center, opens the company’s new season in the tomb of Carlo’s grandfather, the former king. The stone work is bathed in a moody reptilian light, as we meet Carlo, meditating on his predicament.
All Carlo’s brio and bluster have to go somewhere, and they do, eventually. Carlo, understandably, takes his time to consider questions of morality, cultural norms and betrayal — before being forced into a conclusion that’s all but inevitable. The plot gets especially messy when we hear the King’s version of things, and learn the length of the church’s power and influence.
Carlo, sung by tenor James Valenti, is just one of the production’s outstanding vocal talents. His counterpart, Elizabeth (soprano Keri Alkema) teases out tender moments of longing, while Rodrigo (baritone Michael Chioldi) tries to remain steadfast and upbeat while his friend plays with decisions that could bring certain death. Mary Phillips has some devastating moments as Princess Eboli.
“Don Carlo” is one of the Verdi works being performed this year, marking the bicentennial of the composer’s birth. And by the standards of opera, this is a ponderous, unusual work. There’s nary a whiff of humor, but nor are there bloodcurdling episodes of violence.
Yet this work is musically adventurous, without easy melodies. The conclusion is predictable, yet comes with a bit about a ghost that doesn’t quite add up. (ALO is presenting the four-act Italian-language version "Don Carlo" known as the 1884 Milan iteration.)
The orchestra under the baton of Richard Buckley — who marks a decade as artistic director withALO, this season — is ever-lively and clean, dancing through Verdi’s grandiose music with an emotive edge.
The set is not as versatile as one would like. The re-arrangements and lighting changes do good work, but they’re stuck with a difficult task of transporting us beyond the confines of the same steps and stones, and except in larger crowd scenes, this set doesn’t really pull that off.
But the voices come first in this production, and luckily for us, the skilled singers and the musicians who accompany them transport us very nicely indeed.