Evening Standard, 16 September 2009
Barry Millington
Don Carlo is saved by soaring harmony
When Nicholas Hytner’s Royal Opera staging of Don Carlo was new in 2008, some felt it fell short of the classic production Verdi’s finest grand opera demands.

There have been a few cast changes this time round, sometimes to good effect, though it’s still possible to feel shortchanged.

The new Carlo, Jonas Kaufmann, is certainly not a disappointment: his ringing, ardent tone and rugged good looks win all hearts. Marianne Cornetti as the new Princess Eboli brings tonal weight if a slightly measured delivery to her great aria “O don fatale”.

Also new is John Tomlinson: a baleful, formidable presence as the Grand Inquisitor. Marina Poplavskaya, though familiar with the production, took time fully to inhabit the role of Elizabeth of Valois, but she rose magnificently to her big Act 5 aria: impassioned but with a hint of vulnerability.

Simon Keenlyside similarly won a deserved ovation for his intense, animated reprise of the role of Rodrigo, as did Ferruccio Furlanetto for his Philip II.

No Verdi opera has more soaring melodies or stirring harmonies, and Semyon Bychkov, new in the pit, was superb both in his highlighting of detail and in his heart-swelling delivery of the many passages of high-flown nobility.

Hytner’s production, though closely observed, rarely lifts one out of one’s seat in the same way. Bob Crowley’s ill-conceived designs do not help. The auto-da-fe, with its fanatical, bloodthirsty crowd of onlookers, is chilling but played out in front of a vulgar, impossibly gleaming, gold-encrusted cathedral façade. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition to have such a tacky home base.


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