The Stage, 16 September 2009
George Hall
Don Carlo
Photo: Catherine Ashmore
Nicholas Hytner’s traditional production of Verdi’s grandest opera returns, generally looking good in Bob Crowley’s designs, with their effective period costumes. The auto-da-fe scene, with fanatical priests and jubilant crowds cheering on the burning of heretics, remains mixed, with some additional spoken lines a directorial intervention too far. But some top-class singing keeps the long and ambitious score in the air for much of the evening. The familiar Italian translation of the French original is used.

New is Jonas Kaufmann’s lyrical Don Carlos, who rises impressively to the heftier moments and maintains a genuine commitment to the drama. American mezzo Marianne Cornetti hits the spot as a potent Princess Eboli and John Tomlinson is a tower of strength as the Grand Inquisitor. Much of the rest is as before, though sometimes improved. Ferruccio Furlanetto remains a rock-solid King Philip, with much of the complexity of the vulnerable tyrant on display. Marina Poplavskaya has acquired greater consistency as Elisabeth, her drawn face and sculpted vocal lines expressing the character’s stoical sense of loss. Robert Lloyd’s appearances as the supposedly dead Charles V are properly momentous.

In two elements, the performance could scarcely be improved. One is the superbly sung Posa of Simon Keenlyside, who leaves no corner of his character unrevealed. The other is Semyon Bychkov’s conducting, which brings out the unutterable dignity and pathos of the extraordinary score.

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