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Tragedy of ‘Don Carlos’ to touch the hearts of Koreans

By Korea Herald

Published : April 16, 2013 - 19:45

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In 1867, opera master Verdi was commissioned to write a piece marking the Paris International Exposition that year. Having been impressed by German author Friedrich Schiller’s “Don Carlos, Infant von Spanien,” the Italian composer decided to stage the story of the Spanish royal family originally written by Schiller.

The opera follows the tragic story of Prince Carlos, whose father, King Filippo II, marries his son’s fiancee for political purposes. The prince, who was already famous for his temper and eccentric behavior, is torn between his responsibility to the country, his love for the woman he now has to call his “mother,” and his love and hatred for his father. He attempts to kill his father, which results in his being confined to death at the tender age of 23.

The Korea National Opera will stage what is often hailed as the “greatest tragedy of Verdi” at the Seoul Arts Center Opera House from April 25-28. The opera company will feature the Italian version, which was revised by Verdi three years after the premiere for his own people. It is slightly shorter though as grand as the original French production. 
A scene from “Don Carlos.” (Korea National Opera) A scene from “Don Carlos.” (Korea National Opera)

Internationally renowned stage director Elijah Moshinsky will interpret the “best psychological opera” and Pietro Rizzo will lead the Korean Symphony Orchestra.

Seasoned baritone Philip Kang, who has concentrated on teaching at Seoul National University since 1995, will fill the role of charismatic Filippo II, a character that has become his signature role after playing the part more than 200 times, mainly in Europe.

“I am thrilled to be back. Filippo II is at the center of the drama and determines the whole atmosphere, which is a great responsibility,” he said Thursday at a press conference held at Seoul Arts Center.

At the rehearsal open to the press, Kang portrayed the king using two contrasting tones, falsetto and a powerful roar, and overwhelming the audience.

Tenors Kim Jung-il and Na Seung-seo will portray the complex character of Don Carlos.

“Tenor characters in operas are usually quite plain. They are usually either merry or dull, become very passionate after falling in love and make dramatic decisions, and so on. But Don Carlos is different. He is not a good person and sort of crazy from the start and has to earn people’s sympathy as the drama progresses,” Kim said.

Moshinsky said he was impressed with the level of performance of the singers.

“‘Don Carlos’ is one of the most demanding pieces of Verdi, breaking into the darkness and spreading a pessimistic sentiment. There are 100 singers on stage, which is clearly dramatic. It is remarkable that Koreans can have two sets of casts at a very high level. That’s hardly found in many European countries or Australia,” he said.

“I think Koreans feel more familiar with tragic operas than humorous ones because while remorse is a universal thing, you need a certain cultural background to understand a sense of humor. We are positive that ‘Don Carlos’ will touch the heart of Koreans,” said Kim Eui-joon, general director of the KNO.

By Bae Ji-sook (baejisook@heraldcorp.com)