The Times, 5 May 2013
Hillary Finch
Verdi: Don Carlo, Royal Opera House London, 4. Mai 2013
Don Carlo at Covent Garden *****
Photo: Donald Cooper
With its icy, bare pine forest, its cavernous cloister, its moonlit avenue of poplars, its massive golden cathedral, Nicholas Hytner’s 2008 production of Don Carlo is back in its second revival. In Bob Crowley’s outstanding sets, it looks as good as new. And with Antonio Pappano in the pit, the notes sound as though they are flowing live from Verdi’s pen.

At once epic and intimate, this production incarnates every ambiguity, every conflict, every contradiction of human existence that makes this opera so truly great. Desolate spaces, haunted by a solo clarinet or cello, or a single, unaccompanied voice collide with massed and menacing crowds, converging towards the footlights. Verdi’s dark instrumental nights of the soul are suddenly confronted by his full panoply of raging, resonant orchestral colour.

While Pappano makes us hear all of this in his wonderfully instinctive continuum of dramatic direction, Hytner’s staging, sensitively revived by Paul Higgins, makes us feel those inner and outer conflicts in the tiniest detail. Watch the hands: fingers splayed in terror, tensed in fear; hands trembling, reassuring; hands touching and, with a long ache of distance, failing to touch.

Those who return to the cast have assimilated this body language to a degree which holds a full house spellbound. And those new to the production are drawn deep in. Jonas Kaufmann returns to the title role, in superb voice and half-voice, his responses ardent and puppy-ish, his body tense and twitching with nervous energy. His friendship with the Posa of Mariusz Kwiecien, making his role debut with the Royal Opera, seems to have been for ever.
Kwiecien’s long lines of melody, his pacing, his sense of long-breathed time, as well as of fatal urgency, make the silence during their duets total, the applause after them deafening.

Anja Harteros sings the role of Elizabeth of Valois for the first time with the Royal Opera. And you feel, for the duration, that you never want to hear anyone else in the part. She’s tall, slender and noble of bearing; her eyes and her ripe, indefatigable soprano express a resolution and a tragic resignation nuanced by countless tints of sadness.

The French mezzo, Béatrice Uria-Monzon, replacing the originally billed but indisposed Christine Rice, makes her house debut as a fiery, volatile Eboli. Eric Halfvarson returns as a gross, slobbering, moral wreck of a Grand Inquisitor. And Philip II, unchanged, unchanging, is again superbly sung by Ferruccio Furlanetto: his double act with Pappano’s pacing and accompanying is one of the most moving and thought-provoking aspects of the unforgettable evening.

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