After 20 years of merely so-so musical service to the operas of Giuseppe Verdi — meat and potatoes to most companies — the Los Angeles Opera has sprinted onto the track with a stunning revival of the stark, solemn and overpowering political drama “Don Carlo.” L.A. Opera has created an extraordinary realization of the drama and music in Verdi’s huge, raw-boned and rarely performed operatic masterpiece, holding the tensions of the work over 3½ hours with a single intermission (to Schiller’s four).
Director Ian Judge and set designer John Gunter, both company veterans, have created a stark, menacing set of visuals, consisting mostly of interlocking shapes (“the dark vaults under the Escorial” sings King Philip) painted over in trompe l’oeil grotesques and sustaining a dark-red coloration both Hispanic and bloodstained.
A superb cast, including many new or recent Los Angeles arrivals, splendidly carries the work adapted from the Friedrich Schiller play that touches with iron claws upon matters of misguided love and political tyranny in 16th-century Spain.
Tenor Salvatore Licitra, as Carlo, is maturing nicely after his explosion onto the scene as cover for the Pavarotti “farewell”; reigning mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick makes both faces of Eboli alluring; and the great basso Ferruccio Furlanetto, in his local debut, is superb as the troubled King Philip, caught between pressures brought by a rapacious Church and an unloving wife.
Over it all, as on the night before when a dream cast appeared in “La Traviata,” was the superb hand of conductor James Conlon, with his reborn orchestra once again a matrix of light and color and rich lyrical expanse.