, 11 May 2013
Verdi: Don Carlo, Royal Opera House London, 4. Mai 2013
Don Carlo - Spite is even spikier second time around *****
Verdi's most powerful drama packs a punch in a revival of Nicholas Hytner's production with an all-star cast
In no other opera did Verdi dramatise the conflict between romantic desire and political imperative, church and state, idealism and repression with such devastating intensity as in Don Carlo. "Nothing in the drama is historical," he wrote, "but it contains a Shakesperean truth and profundity of characterisation." Those who see it as his greatest work would agree. But with greatness comes the great challenge of casting.
Returning as Carlo was Jonas Kaufmann, who is blessed with A-list looks and vocal artistry to match. German soprano Anja Harteros played Elizabeth of Valois, to whom Carlo is betrothed before his father, King Philip, decides to marry her himself. It was this pairing that created some fuss ahead of this second revival of Nicholas Hytner's 2008 staging.
Their first meeting in the icy woods of Fontainebleau was slow to catch fire, but each subsequent meeting raised the temperature as Kaufmann drew more warmly sculpted phrasing, and Harteros responded with beautifully judged restraint: her lower register can be quite veiled but blooms exquisitely higher up. Where the original production boasted an elfin Rolando Villazón and a glacial Marina Poplavskaya, this pair emphasised the couple's equality in tragedy. Harteros's "Tu che le vanità" and final duet with Don Carlo scaled heights that one normally only dreams of.
Roderigo, Don Carlo's brother in arms in the Flemish struggle for freedom, was sung here by Mariusz Kwiecien – less charismatic than 2008's Simon Keenlyside – with his full emotional intensity reached only in death. A magnificent constant in this production, however, remains Ferruccio Furlanetto as Philip II of Spain: merciless as despot, heartsick as he accepts his wife has never loved him, and chilling as he plots his own son's death with the poisonous Grand Inquisitor (Eric Halfvarson again).
In the pit, Antonio Pappano extracts every last ounce of menace, fear made palpable in the horns before the burning of the heretics. The staging is broadly successful, with its darkness and redness underscoring Philip's grim promise to Posa that "death has a rich future in my hands".