Political and emotional intrigue on offer

The Israeli Opera performs Verdi's 'Don Carlo'.

A scene from The Israeli Opera performing Verdi’s ‘Don Carlo’ (photo credit: Courtesy)
A scene from The Israeli Opera performing Verdi’s ‘Don Carlo’
(photo credit: Courtesy)
There is plenty in the way of intrigue, skulduggery and emotion on offer in the coming rendition of Verdi’s opera Don Carlo. The production, which will run at the Opera House in Tel Aviv from March 9 to 23, is a sumptuous affair that involves a huge cast of singers and instrumentalists, with Daniel Oren – an avowed Verdi fan – on the conductor’s podium. The lead singing roles include Gustavo Porta and Sergei Polyakov as Don Carlo; Ira Bertman and Julia Alexeeva as Elisabetta; Juan Jesus Rodrigues and Ionut Pascu as Rodrigo; and Insung Sim and Simon Lim as Filippo II. Add to that the rich threads of Spanish costume designer Jesus Ruiz, suitably crafted onstage esthetics courtesy of Italian set designer Carlo Centolavigna, along with the work of director Giancarlo del Monaco and associate director Sarah Schinasi, and you have yourself one fine, and impressive, production.
Political and religious chicanery abound in Verdi’s French-language retelling of the 16th-century shenanigans involving Carlo, Prince of Asturias; his unfeeling father, Phillip II of Spain; and Carlo’s beloved, Elisabetta.
Schinasi says the production feeds off the historical facts which, necessarily, means that she and the rest of the behind-the-scenes personnel have their work cut out for them.
“Details are what make the difference,” she notes. “It is a lot of work. Very intense. But we have a fantastic cast.”
And the players-singers have to be on their mettle, as they are put through their paces to keep the members of the audience fully engaged.
“My technique imagines a fourth wall which is where the audience is,” Schinasi explains. “The characters have to interact among themselves and make the audience come to them.”
That, she says, goes against accepted wisdom, but it produces the desired effect – the requisite tension.
“There is the old school, which means everyone has to sing towards the front. But if you don’t interact with your partners, you don’t create the magic. You don’t get the audience into the box [of the fourth wall]. If you give everything on a plate, ready, people will sit back and read the program or fall asleep. You have to get them sitting on the edge of the seats, wanting to have more. We have to bring the tension into the story. We are trying to build the drama in a theatrical way in order to tell the story, which is a very complicated story,” she explains.
Schinasi has pulled out all the stops to ensure that the multi-layered story is presented to Israeli opera lovers in as accurate and convincing a manner as possible. She even went to the extent of consulting a London-based psychology in order to get a better handle on what made Don Carlo tick. She looked into the eponymous character’s wayward teenage behavior and his relationship with his cold and distant father.
It is not hard to see why Don Carlo was unhappy. He was sent to a (Courtesy) out & about highlights dining events movies television 11 military academy at the of age of six and experienced some brutal treatment there. To add insult to deep-seated injury, after finding love, in the form of Elisabetta, he was eventually forced to forgo romance for the greater political good. It is, says Schinasi, a matter of duty, politics and power.
“Imagine Elisabetta, who was a teenager, who hates the life in Spain but knows that, because of her [arranged] marriage to Filippo, there will be peace. ‘You are so important. You are the tool of peace.’ I don’t think she felt love for Filippo. She was well educated, and she admired him for being well educated. But I don’t think you can call it love. We know their sexual encounters were very painful for her,” Schinasi says.
In addition to the rich sets and lighting design, Schinasi says she wove a lot of physical dynamics into the production, which she feels are appropriate for the storyline and historical context.
“I worked a lot on body movement, not using the hands too much. At the time [in the 16th century], people did not move with their hands or touch themselves as much as we do today. Men moved in a soldier-like way. The body language is internalized by the words and thoughts that the characters speak to each other,” she says.
Schinasi is also a great believer in getting opera singers to develop their thespian skills.
“This is a huge opera, where the singing is very demanding and the acting is very demanding because of all the relationships among the characters. I am still surprised how, in opera, we need to find a balance between the acting and the singing. We have to make opera believable,” she asserts.
As a trained pianist, Schinasi also has a head start when it comes to marrying the onstage action with the score. That, and her attention to detail, should come across in Don Carlo next week and, yes, get the members of the audience sitting on the edge of their seats.
‘Don Carlo’ will be performed March 9-23 at the Opera House in Tel Aviv. For tickets and more information: (03) 692-7777; www.israel-opera.co.il