The Spectator, 11 May 2013
Michael Tanner
Verdi: Don Carlo, Royal Opera House London, Mai 2013
Don Carlo, Royal Opera House 
Verdi’s Don Carlo, in Nicholas Hytner’s 2008 production, has a super-starry revival at the Royal Opera, in Verdi’s five-act version, but without any of the noble and explanatory additions that Andrew Porter discovered in the early 1970s. A long evening should have been still longer. That is most evident at the opening, which in the version we heard seems to have lost its first few minutes, as indeed it has.

But it gives a chance to Jonas Kaufmann to sing his sole aria of the evening straight away, though it’s an odd piece: plangent, melancholy, but failing to establish a character. In fact the performer of the title role has to create a character at least as much of his own imagining as with the materials that Verdi gives him. Kaufmann, to my surprise, didn’t quite do that. A small element of narcissism has crept into his singing, so that one is more impressed by his astounding pianissimi than moved by the misery of the character. His alter ego, and the work’s true hero, the freedom fighter Rodrigo, is magnificently taken by Mariusz Kwiecien, whose death scene was the most poignant and searching part of the performance. Anja Harteros is a marvellous Elizabeth, though she held back for much of the time, but gave her all in her great Act V aria, and in the divine duet that follows. Ferruccio Furlanetto was on staggering form, singing Philip II with a firm, centred tone that hasn’t always been evident in recent years. Christine Rice being ill, Eboli is taken by Béatrice Uria-Monzon, fine to look at but with too small a voice to do justice to the determination of ‘O don fatale’.

With the odd reservation, it is a stunning cast. Yet the work didn’t move me as it usually has done, and as it always did in the great Visconti production from the first night in 1958 onwards. Why? The staging, though it avoids any breaks, does nothing to generate the required atmosphere of grandeur and claustrophobia. With fine period costumes, it is annoying to have sets mainly unimaginable before the late 20th century. And Antonio Pappano’s conducting left me, as so often, in two minds. Lots of fascinating detail, superb micromanagement, but failing to give this strangely constructed opera momentum. From the opening of Act IV onwards it is there anyway, but the disparate scenes that constitute the first three acts need to sound as if they are moving somewhere, and in this account, for all their beauties, they didn’t.

Many members of the audience, keen to treat this as a series of showpieces in fancy dress, made things worse by applauding for minutes on end after most of the celebrated set-pieces; they must have flown over from Italy. Perhaps it’s the First Night Syndrome, and later performances may realise the immense potential of these artists in this masterpiece.

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