Daily Express, 21 September 2009
Clare Colvin
THE TITLE is Don Carlo or, as in the original French version, Don Carlos, but the central character of Verdi’s five-act historical saga is undoubtedly Philip II of Spain rather than his wayward son.
The point is made strongly in the revival of Nicholas Hytner’s 2008 production, as Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto returns to the role of the repressive King with even greater authority.

The influence of Philip pervades the opera, from the lyrical first scene when Elizabeth, daughter of the King of France, meets her betrothed Don Carlos while hunting in the Forest of Fontainebleau.

No sooner have they fallen in love at first sight than the news arrives that Elizabeth’s father, to ensure political peace, has promised her to the King of Spain instead.

Not a good start to the marriage, which is clear to the entire Spanish court when Philip brusquely sacks the Queen’s French lady-in-waiting for leaving her alone in the garden.

As Marina Poplavskaya’s Elizabeth comforts her banished companion in an aria seething with bitterness, the King goes through a folder of official papers while he waits for his wife to stop complaining.

When her tirade continues unabated, his expression veers from sulkiness to embarrassment at having the cracks in the marriage exposed before all.

It’s a masterly character study of a man who can command the world but not himself and prepares the way for the devastating loneliness of his fourth act aria when cloistered in his study he reflects on the emptiness of his life with a wife who has never loved him.

German tenor Jonas Kaufmann, new to the role of Don Carlo, is a singer who has everything going for him in looks, voice and acting ability. In this difficult role of a Hamlet-like prince whose search for love and a purpose in life ends in a botched rebellion against his father, Kaufmann shows us a naïve young man whose setbacks lead to his mental collapse.

He is well partnered by Simon Keenlyside’s Marquis of Posa, the friend whose idealistic stand against the King’s tyranny provides more fuel for the Inquisition.

You can always expect the Spanish Inquisition from the ominous chords with which Verdi heralds the approach of the Grand Inquisitor. It is a sensational entrance as the blind, scarlet-robed Inquisitor (John Tomlinson) is led into the King’s gloomy study at the Escorial by two hooded monks for the duel between State and Church.

Bob Crowley’s designs for the earlier auto da fé have been slightly toned down with, thankfully, less beating of heretics and writhing of bodies but it’s still an in-your-face spectacle of glitter and gore.

The remarkable feat of the production is that despite its scale, featuring a 90-strong chorus, it still focuses on the domestic trauma of the unhappy Hapsburgs at its heart.

The evening of four hours 20 minutes requires stamina but is sustained by the intensity and drive with which the orchestra, under Semyon Bychkov, play Verdi’s magnificent music. Don Carlo will be broadcast by BBC Radio 3 on Saturday October 17 at 7pm.

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