Financial Times, 16 September 2009
Don Carlo, Royal Opera House, London
Italian opera has never been more popular. It has also never been in greater need of Italian voices. No matter how good the alternatives, a home-grown voice, properly schooled, transforms the sound of Verdi. It is not just the diction or timbre. It is the tradition, and Ferruccio Furlanetto embodies it as well as any singer today. That is what makes his King Philip in the Royal Opera’s Don Carlo so compelling.

Furlanetto never used to have this sort of stature. He has grown into it, to the point where he can act and sing everyone off the stage. It wouldn’t matter what kind of costume or production he was in. Thanks to his vocal authority and histrionic command, none of it self-serving, he lets us see behind the façade of kingly power to the anguish and vulnerability beneath. It is called humanity – a three-dimensional quality that seamlessly harmonises voice and movement, sound and style, foreground and background.

As in 2008, when the production was new, Furlanetto is the reason to catch this first revival. Marina Poplavskaya repeats her Elizabeth, more confident now, but also more susceptible to vocal swooning, and Simon Keenlyside’s Rodrigo once again enlivens every scene in which he appears. Neither is identifiably Italianate in style or timbre. Nor is the Carlo of handsome newcomer Jonas Kaufmann, whose singing – technically refined and musicianly – never reveals a beating heart beneath the cultured surface.

(but there it is, right there :-))

John Tomlinson contributes a patriarchal Grand Inquisitor, Marianne Cornetti a ballsy, blunt Eboli.

The most successful newcomer is Semyon Bychkov, whose conducting of Lohengrin was one of last season’s outstanding memories. He stamps his authority over every bar: the inner orchestral parts, especially Verdi’s flute and harp decorations, are a constant joy. He is equally considerate of the singers, but it may take a couple of performances for his steady tempi to take wing in the way he intends.

The chorus makes a good start to the season, but Nicholas Hytner’s staging of the five-act version, dressed in garish prefab sets and museum-piece costumes, remains earthbound. Why is it that successive National Theatre directors, upon entering the Royal Opera House, automatically capitulate to operatic convention? Rating: 3/5

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