Splendour and Grand Scale of Don Carlos

The rise of Kazakhstani culture is not just big words, it is an indisputable fact. A confirmation of this was the grand premiere of Giuseppe Verdi’s monumental opera Don Carlos. This production is rarely seen in the repertoires of opera houses, because staging it requires top-notch singers, conductors, set and costume designers. The components of success were found at the Astana Opera – on October 11 and 13, the audience rejoiced with delight, the premiere was held under a barrage of unceasing applause and shouts of “Bravo!”

The artists mastered Verdi’s difficult work brilliantly, and so did the audience, for whom listening to the opera with more than three hours of running time also became a test of sorts. Nevertheless, as it was noted at the opera house, the listeners were prepared; everyone watched the plot development with avid interest.

Italian stage director, winner of the Opera Star International Opera Award 2019 as Best Director, Davide Livermore staged this opera in Kazakhstan for first time. The heroes of the opera are historical figures: King Philip II (Yevgeniy Chainikov, Barseg Tumanyan), Queen Élisabeth de Valois (Zhannat Baktay), Rodrigo (Sundet Baigozhin, Talgat Mussabayev), Don Carlos, Infante of Spain, son and heir to the King (Medet Chotabayev, Naoyuki Okada (Japan)), who was supposed to marry his beloved Élisabeth and his father married her instead…

History comes to life in this opera, as in no other both in costumes and sets that reflect the works of the famous painter Diego Velázquez. There is no sense in talking about how beautiful, spectacular and fascinatingly epic they are, it is better to see them once and fall in love with this medieval beauty forever. Sofya Tasmagambetova and Pavel Dragunov worked on the costumes – the tandem of these well-known, sought-after designers is famous for memorable theatrical works not only in Kazakhstan, but also in other countries.

Despite the fact that the opera is set in a historical period, it is difficult to call the production a fossilized classic. Due to the opera house’s modern technical capabilities, it was possible to make it mobile in a modern way, and the play of color (silver, black and red) resembled the Dark Fantasy genre that is relevant today. A flaming cross descending from under the theatrical vaults, the figure of Charles V, frozen in stone, cells floating in the air with people enclosed in them – all this could not fail to amaze the imagination. Indeed, one of the most striking scenes was the scene of the burning of heretics – the gruesome vividness of this ritual made skin crawl; the people’s suffering was in clear view.

Discussing vocal leaders in Don Carlos can take quite a long time. Confident sound pitch and good text delivery of leading artists deserves a separate applause.

Zhannat Baktay was brilliant onstage in the complex part of Élisabeth de Valois. The soprano aroused great sympathy in the auditorium. The singer showed musical expressiveness, bright lows and highs, rich ‘filar un suono’ and piano. It was evident that all the artist’s movements were honed, majestic, but at the same time soft and feminine.

The title role of Don Carlos fell upon two tenors from Kazakhstan and Japan, Medet Chotabayev and Naoyuki Okada. Their performance flowed widely and freely, and everyone wanted to listen to their interesting, pure vocal timbres more and more, they successfully conveyed the hero’s inner turmoil, his sincere desire to free Flanders.

Sundet Baigozhin and Talgat Mussabayev’s artistry and charm allowed the singers to create an honest and noble image of Rodrigo. Their interpretations of this part were precise in terms of acting and, of course, vocally exciting.

Yevgeniy Chainikov and Barseg Tumanyan convincingly and intelligently performed the bass part of Philip II. The great inquisitor – Mikhail Guzhov (Russia) and Bolat Yessimkhanov – with their deep bass voices were able to amazingly accurately convey the authoritativeness of their character. The role of Princess Eboli was brightly and expressively performed by Tatyana Vitsinskaya and Saltanat Muratbekova. A Monk – Shyngys Rasylkhan, Tair Tazhi, Tebaldo – Madina Islamova, Nazym Sagintai, a Voice from Heaven – Yelena Ganzha, Assem Sembina, the Count of Lerma – Yerulan Kamel, Ramzat Balakishiyev, Royal Herald – Ramzat Balakishiyev, Yerulan Kamel did an excellent job in their parts.

Due to the in-depth study of the material, sophisticated interpretation of the score of the celebrated Maestro Alan Buribayev, the orchestra sounded deep and dramatically rich. The expressive and colourful nuance of Verdi’s music confirmed the highest level of the music director and conductor’s professionalism.

The choir under the leadership of Astana Opera’s Chief Choirmaster Yerzhan Dautov made a great impression in the scene in the Queen’s Garden, and it was also very powerful in the auto-da-fé scene. Mass episodes gave the production an especially grand scale; they alternated with chamber scenes with only a few singers filling the stage with their energy and charisma.

The premiere was held under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture and Sports of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Chairperson of the Senate of the Parliament of the Republic of Kazakhstan Dariga Nazarbayeva, Minister of Culture and Sports of the Republic of Kazakhstan Aktoty Raimkulova, music critics and foreign guests were in attendance. Against the backdrop of all the historical events presented in the large-scale, epic production, human feelings still came first. The opera made everyone sitting in the auditorium think about the high values (freedom, love) that remain relevant in any historical era.

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