Evening Standard, 07 May 2013
Barry Millington
Verdi: Don Carlo, Royal Opera House London, 4. Mai 2013
Don Carlo, Covent Garden - opera review **** 
Verdi's loathing of repression and the suffering it brings is projected forcefully in Nicholas Hytner’s heroic vision

Even at Covent Garden, revivals of major productions can sometimes look like feeble, under-rehearsed reincarnations of the original. Clearly for this second revival of Nicholas Hytner's 2008 Don Carlo in Verdi's bicentenary year, all the stops had been pulled out.

To begin with, it was under the baton of the Royal Opera’s music director, Antonio Pappano, who conducted with taut rhythmic control and a characteristic feeling for the natural shape of music phrases.

No doubt the house was delighted to secure once again Jonas Kaufmann, currently the world’s favourite tenor, in the title role. Kaufmann brings to the part a full-throated heroic tone that also magically floats in response to the nuances of the text.

Don Carlo’s inamorata, Elizabeth of Valois, is sung by Anja Harteros. Secure of technique and radiant of tone, her assumption of the role could hardly be bettered. Mariusz Kwiecien’s Rodrigo is less impulsive than Simon Keenlyside last time around, but no less intense and perhaps even more noble.

As Philip II, Ferruccio Furlanetto boasts a powerful stage presence and a voice both charged with authority and haunted by inner demons.

The Grand Inquisitor is portrayed convincingly by Eric Halfvarson as crazed and grotesque; infirm of body, he is twisted in spirit too. As Princess Eboli, Béatrice Uria-Monzon exhibits the suppressed jealous rage of the tigress she claims to be. Her O Don Fatale was carried off well, even if it did not quite eclipse the memories of previous Ebolis on this stage.

Hytner’s vision may startle those brought up with the handsome naturalistic Visconti production. Bob Crowley’s designs combine historicism (period costumes) with ironically referenced postmodernism — the sets make sometimes stylish, sometimes vulgar use of black, red and gold. For the burning of the heretics at the auto-da-fé, an impossibly gleaming, gold-encrusted cathedral façade is juxtaposed with a huge, tasteless image of Jesus’s bleeding head. If this looks like gratuitous, even pornographic sado-masochism, then the critique is no doubt aimed at the religious bigotry that induces it.

Verdi’s loathing of repression and the suffering it brings are projected forcefully in Paul Higgins’s revival, as is his belief in the ultimate triumph of the free, radical spirit.

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