Financial Times, 06 May 2013
By Richard Fairman
Verdi: Don Carlo, Royal Opera House London, 4. Mai 2013
Don Carlo, Royal Opera House, London – review **** 
This was a production of visual paucity but also one of pure vocal pleasure
Verdi’s operas have been explored so thoroughly in recent years that it is hard to know how to celebrate the composer’s bicentenary. Following its drab new production of Nabucco , this revival of the Royal Opera’s 2008 production of Don Carlo – the grandest, most challenging of all his operas – is probably as good a way as any, especially when it is sung as well as it was here.

This was an evening of pure vocal pleasure. Nicholas Hytner’s production offers little comparable for the eyes: perversely, the sets are spacious when they need to be claustrophobic, constricted when they should be panoramic, and several are also eye-poppingly ugly. If there was ever any meaningful probing of the opera’s political background, it seems to be lost now, except in the bloodthirsty showpiece of the auto-da-fé, which is risibly staged like a scene from a child’s cartoon book.

A great opera was in danger of being cut down to size. But the singers had other ideas, especially Anja Harteros and Jonas Kaufmann, Germany’s leading opera stars of the moment, whose glorious voices and shared understanding of their characters gave the performance a running thread of excellence. Harteros was in gleaming, technically faultless form as Elisabetta. It is unlikely that the last half hour of the opera has ever been sung better in this theatre. As Don Carlo, Kaufmann varies his singing so much with soft, warm, intimate sounds that the Italian passion of the music starts to recede out of reach, but he, too, was impressive and, in his three duets with Harteros, deeply moving.

Ferruccio Furlanetto kept well up with them, singing with an imposing authority that embraced equally Philip II’s fearsome power and his inner weakness. Altogether, this was a fine cast, with Mariusz Kwiecien playing a firebrand Posa, who missed only the elegance the role offers, and Béatrice Uria-Monzon a convincing Eboli, though one taken to her limit with no voice to spare. Robert Lloyd, a veteran Friar, was also strongly cast. Add in typically vibrant conducting from Antonio Pappano and the scene was set for an enthralling performance. Verdi, sitting above on his cloud, must have been delighted – as long as he kept his eyes shut.

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