Reign in Spain

Arizona Opera wraps up the season with 'Don Carlo.'

The first time Giuseppe Verdi took at a stab at the intricate Inquisition story of Don Carlos of Spain, he came up with an interminable work in French. It was so long that one critic jeered that Verdi had now become Wagner. After its 1867 debut at the Paris Opéra, the corpulent Don Carlos disappeared.

Seventeen years later, a slimmer opera appeared, in Italian, one act shorter and minus the final s. Verdi's new Don Carlo was hardly svelte--it was still a work in four acts--but critics and crowds immediately declared it a masterpiece.

Arizona Opera wraps up its 30th season this weekend with a sumptuous production of the later version of Don Carlo. Designed by L'Opéra Montreal's Bernard Uzan and Michel Beaulac, the same team who designed the eye-popping Aïda of several seasons back, the opera promises a lavish set attuned to its 16th-century story of politics, oppression and love suppressed. Uzan also stage directs.

Don Carlo, son of King Philip II of Spain, has been betrothed to Elisabetta of Valois, daughter of the French king. But then Philip decides to marry Elisabetta himself, in a strategic move to end the long war between their two countries, and the young couple is torn between love and duty. Figure in subplots about a Flemish rebellion in the North, the burning of heretics by the Inquisition and assorted palace intrigues, and the work adds up to Grand Opera in the grandest sense. Based on a historical play by the German Friedrich von Schiller, the opera nevertheless takes liberties with history.

Verdi's lush music for the piece includes the famous aria "O don fatale." Soprano Marie Plette, a frequent singer at the Met in New York, is the Elisabetta of Saturday night, and Aimee Willis, who sang in Arizona's Un ballo in maschera, will sing the lead Friday evening and Sunday afternoon. Tenors Tonio de Paolo and Patrick Denniston, who both had parts in the recent Fanciulla del West, alternate Don Carlo, de Paolo on Friday and Sunday, Denniston on Sunday.

Arizona Opera presents Don Carlo at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 30 and 31, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 1, at the TCC Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave. The opera will be sung in Italian with English surtitles; Cal Stewart Kellogg conducts a live orchestra. Tickets are $19 to $67. They're available at Ticketmaster, at the door or by calling 321-1000.
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