Don Carlo is back at the Met, this time in Italian. Last season, the Metropolitan Opera staged Verdi’s opera in French, the original tongue of the work. (It had its premiere in Paris.) The Met had never done this before. Last night, the company opened a fresh run of Don Carlo, in the Italian we are accustomed to, when it comes to this opera.

The production is that of Sir David McVicar, the Scottish director—the production that premiered last season. Whether the language is French or Italian, the production doesn’t care.

In the version we saw last night, there is no prologue, or Fontainebleau scene. The show begins in media res—which I find a bit of a cheat, but the show is long enough, true (four hours, with two intermissions).

Leading the performance in the pit was Carlo Rizzi, who has had something of a residency at the Met this season. He has conducted Medea (Cherubini) and Tosca (Puccini)—and now Don Carlo. We are lucky to have this Italian veteran around.

From his baton, Don Carlo was intense, efficient, and grand. Early in the show, I appreciated his tempo in “Dio, che nell’alma infondere,” the tenor–baritone duet. Too many conductors rush through it, I find. It needs its pomp and swagger. In fact, I could have used more of that, from Rizzi.

At the beginning of Act II (in the version we saw), three characters join for a kind of showdown. The emotions of all three were reflected in the orchestra, or propelled by the orchestra. Rizzi was tremendously vital here.

Maybe we could have one more detail. The encounter between King Philip and the Grand Inquisitor should have a woozy, dark magic. Rizzi wove it.

Don Carlo is chockfull of male characters, and important such characters. Let’s begin with the women. Eleonora Buratto, the Italian soprano, portrayed Elisabetta. She is one of the finest singers before the public today. I will count the ways (some of them).

Buratto produces a beautiful ribbon of sound, which can pierce, while remaining lyrical. The voice is exceptionally well placed. The singer’s breathing is exemplary. She observes the musical line, like an instrumentalist—a violinist, let’s say.

She was the only Italian in the cast last night. Does that make a difference? It does. Even her “sì” was different—a simple “yes.” Her diction was extraordinarily clear, enabling a listener to understand every word.

On Broadway, they speak of an “11 o’clock number.” Don Carlo has one too. It is Elisabetta’s aria “Tu che le vanità,” and La Buratto slew it.

Princess Eboli was portrayed by Yulia Matochkina, a Russian mezzo-soprano. Did she sound Slavic? Yes—but she still made an Eboli. In the Veil Song and everything else, she was good. But that could not have prepared you for her “O don fatale,” which was better than good—it was a knockout. In the pit, Maestro Rizzi could not help applauding, along with everyone else.

Peter Mattei, the Swedish baritone, made a beautiful Rodrigo. Absolutely beautiful. Should Rodrigo be beautiful—sound beautiful—to say nothing of “absolutely beautiful”? Sure, why not? Still, this Rodrigo was unusual. Mattei sounded like a lieder singer. An aria in his mouth was songful. When Rodrigo disarms Carlo, he says, “A me il ferro!” (“Give me your sword!”) That is a huge, loud, ferocious command. Mattei was plenty loud—still, the command was beautiful.

What can you do? Or what can he do?

In the title role—Carlo—was Russell Thomas, the American tenor. He made his Met debut in this opera, in the 2004–5 season—as the Royal Herald. Now he has graduated, and he sings Carlo heartily and well. It may well be that I heard that Don Carlo, in 2004–5. But my first memory of Thomas comes from the next season, when he was the First Prisoner in Fidelio (Beethoven). I said he had a “melting trumpet.”

Last night’s King Philip was Günther Groissböck, the Austrian bass—best known as Baron Ochs, in Der Rosenkavalier, the Strauss opera. Before the show, I had three questions: Would he be Italianate enough? Would he be loud enough? Would he be low enough? (That is, would he have the low notes?)

You have heard more Italianate. You have heard louder. You have heard louder, lower. But Groissböck is very, very smart—smart vocally, smart theatrically, smart in every way. And this intelligence carried him through.

As he did last season, Jon Relyea, the Canadian bass-baritone, sang the Grand Inquisitor. My gosh, was he effective. What an Inquisitorial voice, and bearing.

The Royal Herald is a small role. That of Tebaldo, the page to Elisabetta, is slightly bigger. It was filled by Erika Baikoff, a Russian-American soprano (who, according to her bio, majored in French at Princeton). She was adorable. Should a Tebaldo be adorable? I don’t care, she was.

So, Don Carlo is launched once more. Of all Verdi’s masterpieces, it is the most masterly—along with all the other ones.

One footnote, please. As I glanced at the credits in the Met’s program, I noticed that two people were in charge of “intimacy direction.” Who among us does not need a little intimacy direction, now and then?

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