Sofonisba Anquissola's "Felipe II" (1573)
Thanks to the invitation from the Visiting Soprano, I found myself seated, Friday evening, at the excellent butaca 4 of row 7 in the stalls of the Teatro Real watching "Don Carlo".
This 2001 production is very much a "Mise en Scene d'auteur" . Hugo de Ana, is not only the Director but also both the Scenographer and the Costume Designer. The sets are about grandiloquent Renaissance grandeur, to make us - the mere subjects of the Sovereign- share the awe for the personification of Imperial Power. In that sense the story of Don Carlo becomes a Mythology. Felipe-Jupiter presiding over the whereabouts of nymph-goddesses (like Elizabeth and the Princess of Eboli) and demi-gods (like Carlo and Rodrigo). The dark "Grand Inquisidor" is the only god-like figure that can be said to be in the same league as the King.
Where does this take us? What is the point of blogging this thoughts, the Honourable Reader might ask.. Well, as I said to Tatiana in the after-performance supper, we are in Lost Empire Syndrome (LES) territory all over again. States that have at some point acquired Imperial status of world significance, and then return to normalcy, produce spoilt unbalanced child over-bragging about the uniqueness of their heritage or forever whinnying about insufficient attention paid to them and their unique country. (I am told that in a recent launching of a new book on the Escorial Palace a Ministerial Authority said with utter seriousness that "without referring to the Escorial one cannot understand the history of Spain? the history of Europe? the history of the World". That is the type of LES-related delirious hyperbole I'm talking about).
LES is a fate that affects all of us who had their glorious "moment" (as they say in script-writer's lingo) in History. That includes my own, I rush to say. Many clever things have been told about Britain/Classical Athens enlightening America/Ancient Rome as a new role for LES-ridden UK; or about the world power projection of the European Union Project as the new chance for LES-affected France; or the megalomaniac celebrations of S.Petersburg Centenary as an obvious compensation for the acute form of LSE Russia is experiencing since she has lost Soviet Union-related Superpower Status.
So, I'll argue that seeing "Don Carlo" in the heart of Hapsburg Madrid in an awesome imperial scenographic approach dangerously becomes a political manifesto..
(ps. Roberto Scandiuzzi (Filippo II) and Olga Guryakova (Elisabetta) were the most credible as impersonations of royalty and tormented love pursuits. Dolora Zajick (La Princesa de Eboli) sings like an (slightly overweight) angel and makes life very difficult in the bravometer for the other feminine lead role. (In any case,in the score of "Don Carlo" Verdi has treated the Mezzo much better than the Soprano... Some affair he was conducting at the time?)