Daily Express, May 7, 2013
By: William Hartston
Verdi: Don Carlo, Royal Opera House London, 4. Mai 2013
Opera review: Don Carlo, Royal Opera House ***** 
VERDI took 20 years to get this opera right.

From its first performance in 1867 to its fourth and final version in 1886, it went through several major rewrites, with its language changing from French to Italian and its title from Don Carlos to Don Carlo.

By contrast, the Royal Opera House has taken only five years and three attempts to get the best out of Nicholas Hytner's production of the opera, and the result is quite magnificent.

The tale is one of conflict: political conflict; religious conflict; emotional conflict; and conflict of loyalties.

The Spanish prince Don Carlos is in love with Elizabeth of Valois and believes their marriage will end the long conflict between Spain and France. However, his dad, King Philip II has another idea: he'll cement the union between the two countries by marrying Elizabeth himself.

Don Carlos's loyal friend Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa, does his best to help and advise, while the Grand Inquisitor pops up occasionally to threaten everyone with the wrath of God and burn at the stake anyone who dares disagree with him.

All you need for a fine production of this opera is a magnificent tenor with a powerful yet mellow voice to portray Don Carlos's suffering, a superb soprano to play the part of the noble Elizabeth, a strong-voiced baritone as Rodrigo, two commanding bass voices as Philip II and the Grand Inquisitor, and a conductor who really understands Verdi's music.

The current production at Covent Garden fulfils this recipe perfectly, with the five leading singers giving performances any one of which would on its own have made this worth seeing. Seeing all of them together produces one of those blissful Covent Garden evenings when it feels a privilege to be there.

First, there is Jonas Kaufmann in this title role.

The voice of this German tenor is one of the wonders of the modern world. Combining a wondrously mellow tone with huge, apparently effortless power and control, he is always a joy to see and hear. On this occasion, however, he was almost outdone by his co-stars.

The Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien has been very impressive in previous roles at the Royal Opera, but as Rodrigo was quite outstanding. His voice is strong, confident and pure in tone and is quite riveting to listen to.

Perhaps even more commanding of attention was German soprano Anja Harteros as Elizabeth of Valois.

She is without doubt one of the great sopranos of today, and the dramatic demands of this role show off her voice perfectly.

Add Ferruccio Furlanetto as the commandeering yet inwardly anguished Philip II and Eric Halfvarson as a blind and doddering, yet sadistic and dominant Grand Inquisitor, and have it all conducted by Antonio Pappano, with his impeccable knack of perfectly blending the orchestral sound with the singing, and it all adds up to a perfect night.

Opera does not come much better than this. The Royal Opera and the director of this revival, Paul Higgins, are to be congratulated on a faultless production.

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