Thwarted love, jealousy, betrayal fuel da Corneto’s fine ‘Don Carlo’

Chicago Sun-Times (IL)-June 16, 2005
Author: Laura Emerick
Section: Features
Page: 47
Column: CONCERT REVIEW

‘Don Carlo’
recommended
When: 4 p.m. Sunday
Where: Church of St. Hilary, 5600 N. California (at Bryn Mawr)
Tickets: $30; students, $5, with valid ID
Phone: (847) 662-2694 or online at http://www.dacorneto.org

With Lyric Opera and Chicago Opera Theater dark for the summer, local opera lovers need not despair. Several smaller companies, such as the excellent da Corneto Opera, which stages concert versions of the 19th century repertoire, provide worthy alternatives.

Through Sunday, it is presenting one of Verdi’s greatest works, the infrequently performed “Don Carlo,” a passionate story of familial, religious and royal strife, set against the backdrop of the Spanish Inquisition. (Da Corneto uses the now customary four-act version in Italian, instead of the five-act original in French.)

Though it has only a fraction of larger companies’ resources, da Corneto scored another victory. A few vocalists perhaps did not meet the level of previous productions, but on the whole, fine ensemble work drove the performance.

As the besieged King Philip, bass Alvaro Ramirez masterfully delineated his character’s many conflicts, especially in the Act 3 aria “Ella giammai m’amo.” Soprano Rose Guccione, as a creamy-toned Elisabetta, acquitted herself well, particularly in Act 4’s punishing “Tu che le vanita.” As Princess Eboli, one of Verdi’s most demanding parts, mezzo soprano Helene Pickett offered a wobbly coloratura in the famous “Song of the Veil.” But she mustered her resources for a thrilling “O don fatale,” Eboli’s signature aria, in Act 3. While tenor Brent Weber as Don Carlo often sounded grainy, baritone Tom Hall triumphed as the noble Rodrigo. The orchestra, conducted by Giampaolo Bracali, and the chorus, supervised by Ramirez, were excellent throughout.

Da Corneto finds itself at a crucial juncture. A program note indicates that a second production this season (possibly Verdi’s “Luisa Miller” or Donizetti’s “Poliuto”) depends on securing needed funds. In past seasons, da Corneto has offered dates at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall or the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts. Presumably due to budget constraints, all performances this season are at St. Hilary’s. Though the church has excellent acoustics, its wooden pews leave much to be desired, especially given the 31/2-hour running time of “Don Carlo.”

At intermission, artistic director Kelli Finn spoke briefly but passionately about the company’s financial concerns. It has received a challenge grant that will match donations up to $3,000 through July 15. So get those checks in the mail. The local classical music scene needs the continued success of innovative groups such as da Corneto Opera.

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