“Don Carlos,” the five-act grand opera, composed by Giuseppe Verdi, has come to the stage of the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts. In collaboration with the Metropolitan Opera, Fairfield University has put on a series of live screenings, bringing the experience of the Met Opera House to campus.
Being my second time experiencing the Met Opera through Fairfield’s live screenings, I thought I knew exactly what to expect. I could not have been more wrong. “Don Carlos,” I found, is an Opera that cannot be compared to any other, whether it is viewed on a stage or on a screen.
There were, however, a few familiar aspects of this live screening that I thoroughly enjoyed. First was the ambiance created before the show even began. Scenery of the Met Opera House was displayed on the screen as I entered the theater. I saw images of audience members taking their seats. I heard the chatter of those anticipating the show. I heard the orchestra tuning their instruments in preparation for the brilliant music to come. Providing these aspects in the live screening made me feel as though I was there myself.
Another aspect of Fairfield’s live screening that is so special, is the backstage interviews with cast members, directors, set designers and musicians. It is one thing to view the opera, but it is another to get exclusive insight into the actual production of the show. Hearing truthful opinions and insights from the people who put this performance together is something that cannot be seen by audience members at a live show.
For those who are unfamiliar with the plot, “Don Carlos” is a tale of forbidden love among royalty set against the backdrop of the Spanish Inquisition. It tells the story of Don Carlos, the Spanish King Philippe’s heir and his love for Élisabeth, the daughter of a French king. While both love each other, Élisabeth is bound to marry Carlos’ father due to a treaty arrangement. Through five powerful acts and beautifully composed music, audience members are taken on a journey of doomed love and a fight for peace.
It never fails to amaze me, the ways in which music can convey such strong emotions. Giuseppe Verdi’s composition for “Don Carlos” is no exception. Verdi masterfully weaves together melodies to signify different emotions. The music was soft and melodic when Carlos and Élisabeth would express their love for one another. In contrast, the music would intensify at times to match the chaos of the action on stage. I could truly feel the pain, heartbreak and agony that Carlos and Élisabeth felt in being apart as they sang harmonious melodies against the backdrop of a cheerful choir. While the rest of the world rejoiced, Verdi made sure we, as audience members, could feel the internal pain of these characters.
What was so special about this particular performance was that it was performed in its intended French as opposed to its typical Italian. Actors, Matthew Polenzani and Sonya Yoncheva, who play Carlos and Élisabeth confirm just how special it was to perform this work in the beautiful French language, the language that Verdi has originally wrote the opera in. Conductor Yannick Nézet-Sénguin claims in an interview during the intermission, that the melodies of this work are no less beautiful in Italian, but are more understandable in French. He claims that the lyrics “flow better” in French as well.
I cannot serve justice to this work in a mere review with its intricate melodies, its complex themes and its flawed characters. “Don Carlos” is meant to be experienced on the stage. It is a work that one must experience for himself or herself. Though I thoroughly enjoyed my introduction to the “Don Carlos’” here at Fairfield, I would love to experience it live on the Met stage one day.
The Quick Center has once again done an outstanding job of bringing the experience of the Met to campus and I now have another opera to add to my list of must-sees in the future.