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OPERA REVIEW

A ‘Don Carlos’ Worthy of Verdi

Boston Lyric Opera Opens 25th Season with Stunning Production, On Par with Expectations

By Bence P. Olveczky

Staff writer

Don Carlos, an opera in five acts by Giuseppe Verdi, is playing until the 16th of October at the Shubert Theatre. The show features Jean-Pierre Furlan, Indra Thomas, Gaetan Laperriere, Mark Doss, and Robynne Redmon, and tickets range from $31-151.

The Boston Lyric Opera kicks off its 25th anniversary season with a delightful and compelling production of Verdi’s Don Carlos -- a classic opera of forbidden love. Not only does the production offer a rare chance to see Verdi’s masterpiece in its original five-act version, but it is also an opportunity to experience world-class opera right here in Boston -- a treat we have yet to get used to.

What makes Don Carlos stand out among recent BLO productions is the consistent high quality of the singing, acting, and staging. The main cast is an impressive mix of promising new talent, many of whom are knocking at the door of stardom. BLO’s philosophy of engaging tomorrow’s stars today is certainly paying off, with 32 year-old soprano Indra Thomas being the highlight of the evening. In singing the part of Elisabeth -- the unhappy French queen of Spain -- she proves to be a true heir to her African American predecessor and main source of inspiration -- Jessye Norman. Thomas’ graceful and impassioned stage presence combined with a strong and sensual voice propels this production throughout.

Especially poignant are her duets with Jean-Pierre Furlan, who sings the role of Elisabeth’s love interest, Don Carlos. Furlan was last seen as Radames in BLO’s production of Aida, and while he didn’t quite fit that role, his return to Boston reveals a much improved tenor - his voice is more secure, his acting more measured.

The role of Rodrigo, Don Carlos friend and confidant, is sung by the Canadian baritone Gaetan LaPerriere, who’s shortcomings as an actor are balanced by an outstanding voice. Mark Doss’ compelling rendering of Elisabeth’s husband, King Philippe II, is emotionally charged both in terms of the acting and the singing, although his bass may not be quite as powerful as the role demands.

Musical director Stephen Lord conducts the BLO orchestra with plenty of precision, momentum and force, an approach that suits Verdi’s grandiose opera well.

But while outstanding singers and musicians are a prerequisite for soothingly guiding the audience through this four hour opera, it is up to the artistic direction to frame it in an interesting and visually pleasing way. This is accomplished in a laudable manner by set designer John Conklin and lighting designer Alan Lee Hughes who, working under experienced opera director Leon Major, create beautiful and expressive images using distorted cut-outs of architectural elements, painted backdrops, and a golden square that recurs throughout the acts in different sizes and shapes.

Rather than creating a realistic milieu for the singers, the stylized stage design creates atmospheres that accompany and underline the changing moods of this lyrical opera. It starts with a rather minimalist design exclusively in black and white, but color is soon added. Costumes and props become green, purple and gold to match the palette of El Greco’s religious paintings that are used as backdrops in many of the scenes. The result is a coherent and visually arresting production that ushers the audience through the changing scenes and scapes in a fluent and absorbing manner.

The only aesthetic hick-up occurs during the crowded scenes when the choir is on stage. The Shubert stage is simply too small to make them all fit comfortably, and the sight of more than fifty singers scurrying around the stage makes this otherwise poetic and evocative production seem oddly baroque and disorganized. This is a restriction imposed on an opera company without an opera house, but despite its homelessness and its severe budgetary constraints, the BLO is proving -- on its 25th birthday -- that it is a Boston institution to be proud of.