The Guardian, 17 September 2009
Tim Ashley
Don Carlo
Photo: © Robbie Jack/Corbis
Nicholas Hytner's production of Verdi's Don Carlo was hugely admired when it opened in June 2008, so one is left wondering why, just over a year later, it should have mutated into something cautious and uninvolving. Its first revival boasts a new conductor in Semyon Bychkov and a handful of cast changes, most of which, on paper at any rate, look creditable. Yet the disparate elements fail to coalesce into a coherent whole.

One problem is a lack of inexorability in Bychkov's conducting. His fondness for exploring introversion and subtleties of mood, telling in Strauss and Wagner, works against him in Verdi, where his insights aren't balanced by a sense of gathering emotional weight or political rage. There are more than a few moments of slipshod orchestral ensemble, too.

New to the cast are Jonas Kaufmann's Carlo, Marianne Cornetti's Eboli and John Tomlinson's Inquisitor. Cornetti, hogging the high notes and doing nothing with the character, is the evening's main vocal drawback. Tomlinson, on the other hand, scares you half to death with every utterance. And Kaufmann is outstanding, whether braving the rages of Ferruccio Furlanetto's tragic Philip, swooning over Marina Poplavskaya's Elisabetta, or getting political with Simon Keenlyside's finely acted, if undersung Posa.

The musical inequalities make us very aware of the flaws in Hytner's staging. The central metaphor – that inquisitorial Spain resembled a prison or a madhouse – seems overstated, and the set is too mobile: it's hard to suggest oppression or entrapment when walls, pillars and tombs are frequently on the move. It's by no means a disaster, just a bit of a disappointment.

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