The Monets now on exhibit at the Baltimore Museum of Art can be seen almost any time you visit Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. The sets and costumes of the current Baltimore Opera Company's stunning production of Verdi's "Don Carlos" can be seen this week only. Tickets for the Opera are easier to get and there's no standing on line.
This production of Verdi's great score, which opened Saturday, is beautiful to look at -- as beautiful, in fact, as anything one might find in a museum. It was designed by the same team of Argentines -- Roberto Oswald, who directed, designed and lit it, and Anibal Lapiz, who did the costumes -- who were responsible for the wonderful production of "Salome" a few years back.
Oswald and Lapiz have made the production look as if some of the great Renaissance and Mannerist paintings of the period in which Verdi set it have come to life. The stage is on an incline and -- as in a painting by Caravaggio -- sharp shadows and shafts of light are angled such that they seem to strip the flesh from the soul. As in the paintings of Pontormo, the faces of the singers seem lit from within and suggest -- as the music declares -- that these are shocked and horrified people.
But if this was the best-looking production by the Baltimore Opera in years, it also was the best sung. Here's a rundown -- in order of excellence -- of the singers.
Bass-baritone James Morris' Philip II was solidly acted, powerfully sung and deeply touching. The great monologue at the start of Act III is to basses what "Casta Diva" is to sopranos. What made Morris' performance so good was not merely the full and resonant voice and the musical and eloquent phrasing, but the sense of mind looking into its inner recesses.
The Princess of Eboli is a great role, and Sharon Graham brought the house down. The voice is wonderful -- solid bottom, rich middle and a well-supported, vibrant top that is as brilliant as that of a dramatic soprano -- and the acting, beguilingly kittenish or vulnerable, showed real insight into her character's situation. (Eboli is the spurned lover of the hero, the mistress of his father and the best friend of Elisabeth, the wife of the hero's father as well as the here's beloved. Only in opera!)
The rest of the cast was good, if not quite as impressive. Antonio Barasorda was a fresh-voiced Carlo; Ealynn Voss as Elisabeth sang sensitively and securely, even in the higher and exposed passages of the role; Yalun Zhang's vocalism was sometimes a little rough as Posa, but he is a warm and sincere musician (his death scene was wonderful) who has what one suspects will be a bright future; and Jerome Hines was little less than a miracle -- the man is his 70s and in the 51st year of his career! -- as the Grand Inquisitor. With his enormous craft and what is left of his voice, he was able make his encounter with Philip thrilling.
Although it had occasional rough edges, the work of conductor Spiros Argiris and the Baltimore Opera Orchestra was steady and was always able to convey the composer's great moments.