Nicholas Hytner’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Don Carlo” returns to the Metropolitan Opera on Friday evening, with the Mexican tenor Ramón Vargas singing the title role under the baton of Lorin Maazel. The elaborate production made its debut at the Met in 2010, with Roberto Alagna cast as Carlo, and was greeted with a standing ovation and favorable reviews. Writing for the New York Times, Anthony Tommasini said, “New productions are always grist for debate in the opera world. But it is hard to imagine what opera buffs might object to in this one…. Mr. Hytner’s impressively fluid staging places the cast in evocative period costumes (by Bob Crowley) against the backdrops of spare, modern-looking sets (also by Mr. Crowley).”
Verdi’s five-act opera, which clocks in at around four and a half hours, is set in Spain circa 1560 against the dark backdrop of the Inquisition. It tells the story of Carlo, heir to the throne, whose beloved Elisabeth, the daughter of King Henry II, marries Carlo’s father, King Phillip II, in order to broker a peace treaty between France and Spain. Based on the play by Friedrich Schiller, the opera cleverly weaves known historical figures and facts with a fictional narrative that involves two love triangles, soap opera-worthy family drama, betrayal, heartbreak, religious oppression, and political rebellion.
Originally written in French but subsequently translated and commonly performed in Italian (as it will be at the Met), “Don Carlo” is the longest of Verdi’s 28 operas. It was premiered by the Paris Opera in 1867, though Verdi revised the work numerous times over the course of two decades. It was not performed at the Met until 1920, at which point it was virtually unknown in the United States.
This season’s Metropolitan Opera production, which features Barbara Frittoli, Anna Smirnova, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Ferruccio Furlanetto, and Eric Halfvarson, runs at Lincoln Center from February 22 through March 16.