On Monday I was in attendance as the Metropolitan Opera presented this season's revival of Nicholas Hytner's 2010 production of Don Carlo. Verdi's longest opera is always a wonder, and this was a successful production, with good singing and acting. 

The most exciting performance came from veteran bass Ferruccio Furlanetto as Filippo II, King of Spain. He was fully present in every moment, fully in command of Filippo's conflicting emotions, singing always with a tone that was warm and beautiful and showed little evidence of his 65 years. “Ella giammai m'amo”, Filippo's monologue in which he muses on a loveless marriage (“She never loved me”) and the obligations of the crown, was nine minutes of breathless wonder. Mr. Furlanetto is a legend, and deserved the loving ovation he received from the audience. 

Another Metropolita Opera veteran, baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky, was a very firm, very solid Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa. His singing was never less than beautiful, his acting never less than clear. One believed in his love for Carlo, his feelings of duty to his King, his concern for the people of Flanders. One would gladly listen to his Act IV aria over and over.

Ekaterina Gubanova was a vocally stunning Eboli. A warm, rich voice throughout and a very solid high voice are required for this role, and these Ms. Gubanova has in abundance. She also has dramatic instincts that make Eboli's moments of rage and remorse believable. Barbara Frittoli was Elisabetta. She has a beautiful sound and acted the role convincingly. However, I would love to have heard a much warmer, richer tone throughout.

Yonghoon Lee sang the title role. He has made his name known far and wide in just a few years, singing at Covent Garden, La Scala, and Berlin, to name a few venues. He is young (just over 40), handsome, bristling with talent, and the eye is attracted to him on stage. His singing on Monday was certainly passionate and he had high notes in abundance. Having only heard him on radio broadcasts to that point, I find that he sounds even better in the house than on the radio. Only two minor quibbles: the tendency to yell more than sing on some notes leading into or away from sustained high notes, and a repertoire of dated stage gestures that seem to detract from rather than add to his acting. In the end, however, we did care about his Don Carlo, and liked hearing him sing. Had the opera not been so long, we'd have been sorry when he died.

And in this version, the opera is long at four and a half hours, including intermissions. The production team must choose whether to use a five-act or a four-act version, as both came from Verdi's hand directly. The original 1867 version for the Paris Opera had five acts, including a ballet. In 1884 Verdi prepared for La Scala the version in Italian translation with which we are most familiar, which excised the first act. The Met presents Verdi's five-act 1867 version (originally in French), in Italian translation. I found the five-act version made for a long evening. 

On the other hand, I found many visual elements of the production thrilling, or at least fascinating. Sets and costumes were by Bob Crowley. Sets involved large, imposing walls with square cutouts, and were reused in various formations for different scenes. Many of the representational set pieces, such as the trees in the Fontainebleau scene and the church edifice in Act III, to say nothing of the huge, bleeding face of Christ on a shroud in front of the pyre meant for heretics, had a somewhat ironic feel to them. The costumes in every scene were simply gorgeous. One only has to look at Elisabetta in any of those costumes, but especially in her Act III red dress, to see why she was made queen.  One did, however, wonder why the heretics about to burned on that pyre had awfully clean hands and feet for people who had been led about barefoot and tortured. Had they already been washed in the blood of the Lamb?

As usual, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus were stunning. The orchestral interludes, the passages with heavy brass, the support for all of the singers, made one appreciate conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin. One loves hearing “big chorus” shows at the Met, simply because one knows the chorus will be beyond compare. This is a production I do recommend, and I would certainly see it again.