Premiere at La Scala, ‘Don Carlo’ blockbuster between secrets and mysteries of power

The opera, directed by Riccardo Chailly and directed by Lluís Pasqual, brings Giuseppe Verdi’s masterpiece to the stage with a stellar cast featuring the greats of the world of opera, from Anna Nebrebko to Luca Salsi

At the Prima della Scala a blockbuster ‘Don Carlo’ will be staged which will lead the spectator “into the backstage of power, behind the scenes” of secrets and mysteries, to explore the dark side of authority which becomes arbitrariness. Thanks to scenography whose dark colors recall the great Spanish painters of the Counter-Reformation and with a stellar cast of great names from world opera such as Anna Netrebko, Michele Pertusi, Luca Salsi and Francesco Meli, Giuseppe Verdi’s masterpiece returns to inaugurate the 2023 season/ 2024 at the Scaliger theater on 7 December, at 6pm, with a new staging that aims to amaze the music-loving audience once again. It will be a journey into a current theme, that of power, and all the nuances that animate it, assure maestro Riccardo Chailly, conducting the La Scala Orchestra, and director Lluís Pasqual. “Don Carlo is an anti-clerical opera – underlines Pasqual in the press conference – Verdi shows us the behind the scenes of power, the loneliness of the characters. Today we are used to social media, where we can see kings even in bathing suits. At the time by Verdi the king’s face could only be seen on coins”.

The President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, who has promised not to miss next year, will not be present at the opening evening, as has happened in recent years, but the political audience will still be packed, starting with the President of the Senate, Ignazio La Russian. For maestro Riccardo Chailly, musical director, the premiere on 7 December represents the third act of a trilogy focused on power and already begun in the last two seasons by ‘Macbeth’ and ‘Boris Godunov’. A theme that can also be reread in light of the great conflicts that shake the global scenario today. “It is enough to open a newspaper and read what is happening in the Middle East to understand that the intertwining of political power and the power of the Church is a very dangerous thing” observes the superintendent of the Teatro alla Scala Dominique Meyer, satisfied with the work carried out.

‘Don Carlo’ will be presented to the public in the version prepared by the composer for La Scala in 1884. Like every year, the show will be filmed by Rai Cultura cameras and broadcast live on television on Rai1 and radio on Radio3. The sold-out premiere will be preceded by a preview for under 30s on December 3rd and followed by 7 sold-out performances until January 2nd. The opera, which inaugurated the season in 1868, 1878, 1912, 1926, 1968, 1977, 1992 and 2008, will see Riccardo Chailly on the podium while the star cast includes Francesco Meli as Don Carlo, Anna Netrebko as Elizabeth of Valois, Michele Pertusi as Philip II, Elīna Garanča as Princess of Eboli, Luca Salsi as Marquis of Posa and Ain Anger as Grand Inquisitor. Protagonist of no less importance is the choir of the Teatro alla Scala directed by Alberto Malazzi. The sets are by Daniel Bianco, the costumes by Oscar winner Franca Squarciapino, the lights by Pascal Mérat, the videos by Franc Aleu and the choreography by Nuria Castejón.

In his new approach to Don Carlo, which he directed in Amsterdam in 2010 in a beautiful production by Willy Decker, maestro Chailly returns in his memory to the editions directed by Claudio Abbado in 1968 and 1977, whose rehearsals he had followed, but he also refers to the direct study of the manuscripts made available to him by Ricordi. As in Abbado’s edition, you will hear the introduction to Filippo’s monologue entrusted to the row of cellos according to the score and not to the cello alone as often happens. With the Scala ensembles Riccardo Chailly recently directed the scene of Filippo with Ildar Abdrazakov in the evening ‘…a riveder le stelle’ on 7 December 2020, the aria of Elisabetta in concert with Anna Netrebko and the choir of the second act on record and in tour.

Some of the themes dear to Verdi of freedom of feelings, the difficult relationship between fathers and children and the liberation of oppressed peoples will be represented on stage against the backdrop of the conflict between temporal and religious power. To create the atmosphere suspended between ecclesiastical and secular environments, director Lluís Pasqual and set designer Daniel Bianco referred to the use of alabaster in the windows of religious but also civil buildings and in particular the large window of the Collegiate Church of Santa María La Mayor in the Spanish city of Toro. A large alabaster tower is framed in a system of gates which also recur in religious and civil architecture.

There is no shortage of themes of friendship and love, personified by Rodrigo and Elisabetta but also by the Princess of Eboli, played by Elīna Garanča: “I am the first Latvian mezzo-soprano to inaugurate a premiere at La Scala – she says excitedly – I am very proud and honored. I have studied a lot and I hope to justify what Verdi wants and requires. The role of Eboli is very complicated because it takes two voices. The song of the veil requires a bel canto technique with agility then of character when Eboli becomes stronger with the acute ones. Eboli is one of the few women who has learned to survive in this patriarchal world and knows what the role of man is.”

All the artists on stage explain that each one’s role required a lot of effort because they are not easy characters to interpret. Like Francesco Meli, in his sixth premiere, this time in the role of Don Carlo. “I remember other sets of great tranquility – explained the tenor – and this year already at the dress rehearsal I was agitated. My character has great similarities with that of Philip II, his father. He changes mood and state of mind continuously, he is always on stage, in the midst of everything that happens on stage. Don Carlo is so controversial and unclear with himself that he wouldn’t have a moment of his own to dedicate to the audience because he would then prove himself wrong in the following scene.”

Anna Netrebko, who Chailly defines as “a lioness”, also explains that the part of Elizabeth is shrouded in “sadness and loneliness” as she “conceals a great weight within herself”. Bass Michele Pertusi, who plays Philip II, King of Spain, was also thrilled to take to the stage at the Premiere: “After almost 40 years of career it is an honor to open the season with such an extraordinary work. My character is very complicated and the most multifaceted and dramaturgically complicated of all Verdi’s production for the bass voice poses interpretative problems to convey the message of the solitude of power”.

Also on stage is the auto-da-fé, a dazzling and macabre ceremony of self-representation of absolutism, not too different from the mechanisms of today’s propaganda, shown above all in the moment of preparation and only a few minutes are reserved for the ‘party’ in its grandiloquent exteriority. Here stands a colossal gilded and finely decorated retable. The costumes by Franca Squarciapino animate the show, which recall the clothing represented in the portraiture of the time but lighten it in the choice of materials, guaranteeing ease of movement and a certain romantic vitality to the characters. “Franca – says director Pasqual – she is capable of making a dress seem historical even if she isn’t”. The prevailing color is black, not intended however as an expression of mourning but as a display of power and wealth given that in the 16th century black velvets and brocades were among the most valuable fabrics. “The black veil is not dark but it is a sign of wealth and it is not very different from what Giorgio Armani has done in fashion – assures the director -. No one would say that Armani is sad but elegant”.