Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Don Carlo Director's Notes

Director's Notes
By Paul Peers

This production of Don Carlo truly is grand in scale. From the size of the orchestra, to the number of performers on stage, to the people behind the scenes, it has been a monumental endeavor to produce this opera.

This particular production was first done in Hawaii Opera Theater in 2007 and then subsequently remounted in Hong Kong, Cincinnati and Austin. Each time a different director has realized their own version of the story on this set. I am very excited and honoured to have the opportunity to stage today’s version of this production.

As Harvey De Roo writes in his Program Notes, Don Carlo is based on a play by Friedrich Schiller. Although the play and opera draw on themes of self-determination, church versus state, liberty and forbidden love, Schiller did not see it as such a grand narrative. In a letter to a friend he writes, “Carlos was to be anything but a political play – it was to be a family portrait of a royal household”.

My feeling is that Schiller actually did want to write a political play. He lived during the age of  enlightenment, a period in which new ideas and philosophies were spreading quickly. The church felt it was losing its grip of power as science made major discoveries that changed people’s perception of the
world they lived in. (One example: during the same century Schiller wrote the play, Edmond Halley introduced the world to comets, which dismantled people’s superstitions of the lights in the sky being messengers of doom!)

Though there are significant differences between the play and the opera, I can see why Verdi was drawn to the story. He too viewed Don Carlo as a political piece, seeing in it parallels with his native Italy’s struggle for independence. Don Carlo was certainly not Verdi’s first venture at using opera as a political voice: his Nabucco was a highly subversive comment on the Austrian occupation of Italy and spawned the unofficial Italian anthem Va pensiero.

Schiller’s play set the foundation for the emotional truth within the characters of this opera, who could
be simply perceived as archetypes: The Dutiful King, the Pious Queen, the Heartbroken Son and the evil Grand Inquisitor. But they are human, with complexities to which even we in this modern world can connect: the Dutiful King struggles with the idea of condemning his son to death; the Pious Queen is not so pious. I love working with opera singers because I can find this humanity in their interpretations. My challenge as a director is to allow the performer to embody the emotion and express its truthfulness to the audience. I hope this story touches you as it does me.

Paul Peers has directed opera and theatre in New Jersey, New York, Australia and Germany. He directed VO’s 2013 Canadian premiere of Tan Dun’s Tea: A Mirror of Soul. He is a resident artist at the HERE Arts Residency Program in New York City.

Monday, April 21, 2014

A Letter to the VSB from VO

April 21, 2014

Patti Bacchus, Chairperson
Vancouver School Board

Dear Ms. Bacchus:

We have grave concerns over the potential action of the VSB to eliminate the elementary strings and band program.

We realize the extraordinary pressure under which the Board must make its budgetary decisions, but feel that eliminating these programs will be detrimental to our community.  As stated by many others, music is a universal language; Vancouver, of any city we can think of in North America, needs ways to communicate among people who come from many lands and backgrounds.

Music education and the direct experience of making music should be a right of all school children.  It will help them to be more productive, thoughtful and contributing members of our society, as demonstrated in study after study. 

In our more than thirty-five years of bringing operas to students in schools in Vancouver and throughout the province, Vancouver Opera has seen the positive impact on young people, their socialization with one another, their interaction with professional artists, and often their increased self-esteem.

We urge you to find other means to address budget concerns, as the Vancouver School Board also continues to press the provincial government for adequate levels of funding.


Jonathan Darlington                                James W Wright
Music Director, Vancouver Opera            General Director, Vancouver Opera

20 Questions with Mary Phillips

Did you know her favourite author is Jane Austen?
Singing the role of Princess Eboli in the upcoming Don Carlo production, here are 20 Questions with Mary Phillips!

Guilty musical pleasure?
Hmmm?.... Playing classic rock & roll really loud when I'm cooking a meal or cleaning. I really like l listening to live jazz.

Where do you love to sing?
Vancouver! NYC (where I'm home with my son). Barcelona and Scotland were pretty great, as well as Hong Kong.

What is your idea of earthly happiness?
A day at the beach in my home state of Rhode Island - or any beach for that matter.

To what faults do you feel most indulgent?
I liked to indulge in good wine; mostly chardonnay.

Who are your favourite heroes/heroines of fiction?
Superman! Wonder Woman!  Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice!

Who are your favourite characters in history?
John Adams, Ben Franklin,  JFK, Gandhi, Jesus

Who are your favourite heroes/heroines in real life?
Mothers,  single or married

Who is your favourite author?
Jane Austen

Your favourite musician?
I Love Billy Joel. An American treasure!

Your favourite composer?
Tough one… I’d have to say Verdi! 

What quality do you most admire in a person?

Your favourite virtue?

Your favourite occupation?
Teacher - noblest of all professions

What did you want to be as a child?
CHER! (as in Sonny & Cher) or a research doctor

Your most marked characteristic?
I am an identical twin.

What do you most value in your friends?
Humor and honesty 

For what would you like to be remembered?
Kindness & compassion toward others

What natural gift would you most like to possess?
A daughter

What is your motto?
The golden rule: "Do unto others as you would have then do unto you"

What non-opera song do you rock?
"Proud Mary"- Tina Turner style !!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Don Carlo Program Notes

Program Notes
By Harvey De Roo

Many believe that Don Carlo is the best thing Verdi wrote, with the exception of his last, Shakespearian operas, Otello and Falstaff. The music is sublime, the story and its people complex and compelling. The latter is due in part to the play on which the opera is based — Don Carlos, Infantvon Spanien, by  Friedrich Schiller — in which the characters live complicated inner lives within a sprawling plot. It is also due to the kind of opera Verdi was writing at the time: grand opéra, the house style of the Paris Opera, which had commissioned the work, and where it premiered in 1867.

One aspect of this style was length, encouraging operas of four or five acts, and allowing Verdi scope for the complexity he wanted to explore in this work. An example is the first act — the so-called Fontainebleau Act — the whole of which is dedicated to Carlo and Elizabeth falling in love, only to be informed their betrothal has been short-circuited by the decision of Elizabeth’s father, Henry II, to give Elizabeth to Carlo’s father, King Philip II of Spain. We have been so caught up in the process of happy discovery between these two young people that we can feel the shock of their disappointment, their conflict of loyalties, the blight that paralyzes them for the rest of the opera.

Verdi was not used to such length, and revised the opera a number of times — never out of  dissatisfaction with the music but with the timing — so much so that there is no definitive version. All its iterations are in French and Don Carlos is very much a French opera. Today's Italian version — the ‘Milan’ version, 4 acts without the Fontainebleau scene — is a translation of revisions made to the French in 1882-84 and 1886, with the ‘s’ in “Carlos” dropped, in keeping with the Italian spelling of the name.

Because grand opéra grew out of the stirring events of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, it took for its subject charged political situations, usually involving the conflict of countries or cultures. Within this structure was a more intimate story — often a cross-cultural love affair. These features show in Don Carlo

The political context is Catholic Spanish oppression of Protestant Flanders during the Spanish Inquisition. This situation and the love interest are unusual and fraught; the opera’s main conflict is between Philip II and Don Carlo. Philip is a despot who believes that repressive order is required for successful rule; his son is a libertarian. They are divided on Flanders, and so mistrustful is the father that he will allow his son no share of power. Even more Freudian is the fact that each is in love with the same woman, which makes the queen both the son’s stepmother and his lover manqué.

Clockwise from top-left: Guiseppe Verdi, Charles V, Phillip II,
Don Carlos, Elizabeth de Valois, Princess Eboli
Besides being complicated in themselves, these conflicts are entangled with secondary figures. There is  the ambivalent figure of Posa, a champion of Flanders and Carlo’s friend, yet a confidant of the king. Then there is Princess Eboli, narcissistic lady-in-waiting to Elizabeth, vying with the queen for both Philip and Don Carlo.

The opera takes as its subject the failure to find a way of being in this world. As the ghost of Charles V puts it, ‘the heart’s strife will abate only in heaven.’ The work is populated with unhappy and frustrated individuals, cheated by life’s circumstances and their own temperaments. Nor is there a main character, but rather a number of people each of whom is centre of his own strand in this multifaceted story of disappointment.

Don Carlo shows another feature of grand opéra: the admixture of intimate scenes with grand public ones, the latter employing the chorus in the magnificent way the genre demanded. There is, for example, the moving lament by Philip that his wife doesn’t love him (though she shows admirable fidelity) — one of the great bass arias of the repertoire. There is the auto-da-fé scene where the forces of oppression and those of liberty are drawn up in a grand opéra central finale. Add to this Verdi’s specialty: thrilling confrontations. In the public scene just mentioned father and son finally face off against each other, to disastrous effect. There is the private contest between the opera’s two
figures of patriarchal oppression: King Philip and the Grand Inquisitor. 

This opera has everything we love about Verdi and more besides. There is no work by him that is more searching in its exploration of the human predicament. Having been revised in 1882-84, it employs Verdi’s late style, the transcendent music the composer was writing toward the end of his life.

Harvey De Roo taught for many years in the Department of English at Simon Fraser University. For eight years he taught opera history and appreciation in the SFU Seniors Program.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

20 Questions with Joni Henson

Did you know she rocks Adele's 'Someone Like You'? Here are 20 Questions featuring Joni Henson! 

Watch her perform as Elisabeth de Valois in our upcoming production of Don Carlo.

Guilty musical pleasure?

Where do you love to sing? 
I love to sing most when my Mom is accompanying me on the piano. 

What is your idea of earthly happiness?
Spending time surrounded by family and friends. 

To what faults do you feel most indulgent?

Who are your favourite heroes/heroines of fiction?
Aslan in the Narnia series. I also have a special place in my heart for the women I have played in operas; especially Senta and Desdemona. 

Who are your favourite characters in history?
Mary Magdalene, Marie Antoinette and Queen Elizabeth I. 

Who are your favourite heroes/heroines in real life?
My Dad. He showed the most amazing strength and courage as he fought and unfortunately lost his battle with cancer. 

Who is your favourite author?
Anita Shreve - she wrote one of my favourite books - Fortune's Rocks.  

Your favourite musician?
I don't think I can choose just one. 

Your favourite composer?
This is a toss up between Verdi and Wagner. 

What quality do you most admire in a person?

Your favourite virtue?
Your favourite occupation?
I guess I should say Opera Singer...even though it can be very trying at times I do love it! 

What did you want to be as a child?

Your most marked characteristic?

What do you most value in your friends?
Again, loyalty. I also value my friends’ company. 

For what would you like to be remembered?
For being joyful. 

What natural gift would you most like to possess?
I would love to be confident in my public speaking skills...a work in progress for sure. 

What is your motto?
It will all work out in the end. 

What non-opera song do you rock?
Adele's 'Someone Like You'.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Don Carlo Synopsis

A magnificent drama of a king’s brutal power and a son’s brash rebellion
In Italian with English SURTITLES™

May 3, 8, 10, 11 (matinée), 2014
Evening performances 7:30pm.

Matinée performances 2:00pm.

Tickets from $40 -  get yours here

Act I
The Cloister of the Monastery of St. Just
A mysterious monk prays for peace for the soul of Charles V, former Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Charles’ grandson, Don Carlo, comes in and imagines he hears the voice of his grandfather still haunting the convent.

Don Carlo sings of his love for Elisabeth de Valois, who, for political reasons, was forced to marry Carlo’s father, King Philip II of Spain. As Carlo sings, his friend Rodrigo enters. Rodrigo advises Carlo to ask for the governorship of Flanders - perhaps there he may forget Elisabeth. As the scene closes, Carlo and Rodrigo sing a duet affi rming their friendship and their determination to free Flanders.

Photo Courtesy Hawaii Opera Theater

The Garden Adjoining the Monastery
Princess Eboli, along with the page Tebaldo, leads the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting in a song about a Queen catching her King in his adulterous pursuits. Elisabeth joins them and Rodrigo enters to deliver some letters: one from Elisabeth’s father and one from Carlo. Rodrigo begs  Elisabeth to persuade Philip to send Carlo to Flanders. Eboli wrongly supposes that that Carlo may be in love with her.

Carlo appears; Elisabeth struggles to remain calm. She agrees to help persuade Philip to send Carlo to Flanders. Carlo questions her coldness towards him; Elisabeth dares him to kill Philip so he may then be free to marry her. Carlos is shocked by the idea and runs away. Philip appears and is angry to fi nd his queen left alone. He orders the lady-in-waiting who was meant to be attending her to return to France. Rodrigo is detained by the king. Seizing the opportunity, Rodrigo urges Philip to give the people of Flanders their freedom. Philip is impressed by Rodrigo’s integrity and warns him to beware of the Grand Inquisitor. He also confides that he is worried about Carlo and Elisabeth and asks Rodrigo to keep an eye on them.

Act II
The Queen’s Gardens at Night
Having received a letter to meet in the garden at midnight, Carlo approaches the woman he believes is Elisabeth. She reveals herself to be Eboli but is perplexed by Carlo’s confusion. Eboli warns Carlo that Rodrigo is now a confi dant of the king, and it slowly dawns on her that Carlo and Elisabeth are lovers. Rodrigo, who has been following Carlo, rushes in to intervene. In her jealousy, Eboli vows to take revenge by exposing the relationship.

The Square Before the Cathedral
A group of heretics is about to be burned alive as the crowd sings praises to King Philip. Carlo presents a group of deputies from Flanders and Brabant, who beg the king to show mercy. Philip refuses. Carlo demands that Philip send him to Flanders. Philip again refuses, and Carlo draws his sword. Rodrigo disarms Carlo and the king rewards him by making him a duke.

Photo Courtesy Hawaii Opera Theater


The King’s Study
King Philip sings wretchedly about how Elisabeth never loved him. The Grand Inquisitor enters and Philip seeks reassurance that he is right to have Carlo, his son, executed. The Inquisitor points out that Rodrigo presents a greater danger and demands he be executed too.

Elisabeth enters, asking about a jewelry box that has gone missing. Philip has it on his table and opens it to discover a portrait of Carlo. He denounces her as an adulteress and becomes violent. Eboli and Rodrigo enter to see what the commotion is and find Elisabeth on the ground. Eboli begs forgiveness, as it was she who stole the jewelry box and gave it to the king. Elisabeth offers Eboli a choice: exile or the convent. Eboli vows to rescue Carlo.

The Prison
Rodrigo has come to say farewell to Carlo, but is fatally shot in the cell. As he dies, he tells Carlo where Elisabeth will be the next day. Philip arrives, but word of an uprising is received. The Grand Inquisitor quells the violence and Eboli helps Carlo escape amid the confusion.

Act IV
The Monastery of St. Just
Carlo comes to bid Elisabeth farewell, for in order to honour Rodrigo’s memory he must go to Flanders to lead the people to liberty. The King and Grand Inquisitor fi nd them together and the King demands the death of both. The mysterious monk that Carlo saw earlier appears from the tomb - perhaps the ghost of Charles V himself – and drags Carlo into the tomb.