If Verdi's last operas are, obviously, Shakespearean, the three greatest before -- Ballo, Forza, and Don Carlo[s] (1859-1867 in their original shapes) -- are both newer and older in form. The oldest dramatic subject -- the suffering of one who'd shape the public order -- is handled with an almost Greek directness, but through the lens of very contemporary interests in the matter (prompted by the events of 1789+, 1848+, and most particularly the Risorgimento). And we hear these masterpieces in even newer aspect: with market society's decentralization and (partial) depoliticization of the public space, we may now find ourselves -- each one, more than ever before -- participants in the struggle depicted by Verdi and his librettists. At which point I wonder at these works' relative unpopularity in ambition-mad New York.
Each of the three shows the troubles of [a] protagonist[s] in a different social place. Riccardo/Gustavo is almost absolute ruler, and remains sublime even to the fatal end. (One can hear as much; his character infuses the whole opera with an Olympian composure.) On the other hand Alvaro, though half-royal via his Native American mother, is situated far too low in the Spanish world to enact any of the wild ambitions his father intended for him, or even marry the woman he loves. But he's a soldier: it is still left to him to defend his honor, to fight, to slay his enemies, and (in the -- superior -- original) to die. (One might regard Leonora's church adventure as a counterpart to this.)
In Don Carlo[s], chronologically last, all are in between, with the worst of both: high enough to be oppressed and indeed undone by realpolitik demands of duty and state, but not high enough to do much about it. But oh, how eloquently they suffer... It is the longest and darkest of these operas, dark enough that the (non-Schiller) ending on which Verdi settled essentially shows him throwing up his hands in despair -- O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!
Which is all by way of saying that when an excellent, well-cast production like the Met's current one plays, it's sad that the only after-matter it spawns is nit-picking of singers.* The rest is not news, yes. But it's still a pity.
(* Which I'll probably do, in the next post.)