Vancouver Opera's production of Verdi's Don Carlo showcases brilliant music

Vancouver Opera's production of Verdi's Don Carlo Photo Credit: Tim Matheson

It was the Vancouver Opera’s first production of Don Carlo  in 40 years. It is  a grand opera, a work hallmarked by its length (stamina is required!), lavish and spectacular design and stage effects, large orchestra and cast.  Its demands are high and commands substantial resources.  And if performed well, it is an operatic experience like no other. 

The first act, known as the Fontainebleau Act, was a visually  slow start. The sets weren’t particularly exciting and I didn’t find the staging exciting, either. The stage at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre is small and challenging for grand opera.

But what the first act  lacked visually, it made up for vocally. Italian tenor Andrea Carè sung the role of Don Carlo brilliantly and  was well-matched by Canadian baritone Brett Polegato, whose portrayal of Rodrigo was one of the finest things I’ve heard from the Vancouver Opera in recent memory. When he died at the end of Act III, I was genuinely sad that we wouldn’t hear any more singing from Rodrigo for the evening.

Photo credit: Tim Matheson

How does one do grand opera justice on the stage of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre? Among other elements, spectacular lighting and brilliant, strategic use of staging and the chorus. The lighting design was incredible throughout. In  Act II, the lighting creates a moonlit garden that is so real, you would swear the theatre has a retractable roof.  The use of chorus to depict big public scenes was perfect. The confrontation between Don Carlo and his father is an example of well this worked: the chorus scattered throughout the stage combined with Verdi’s incredible writing created an overwhelming sense of intensity and immediacy that translated to the audience.

It would be remiss to talk about Don Carlo without mentioning the Vancouver Opera Orchestra. They shone brilliantly in this production. There have been times this season where I have been underwhelmed by the orchestra’s performance - specifically by the horn section which has not been my favourite this season, but was powerful and strong in Don Carlo. Their unisons were beautifully balanced, and it was clear from the opening few bars of the opera, which features the horns prominently, that the orchestra had risen to another level of music making in this production.

If I had to pick one favourite moment in Don Carlo, it would be the duet between Rodrigo and Don Carlo in Act I. It was so beautiful. I can’t find words to describe it. 

Photo credit: Tim Matheson

Grand opera really is something to experience. In the case of this production, go for the men – between Don Carlo, Rodrigo and The Grand Inquisitor, you will not be disappointed.

Two performances left: Saturday, May 10 • 7:30pm & Sunday, May 11 • 2:00pm matinée

Tickets available by calling 604-683-0222 or online at

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