The Telegraph, 14 Aug 2013
By Rupert Christiansen
Verdi: Don Carlo, Salzburger Festspiele, 13. August 2013
Don Carlo, Salzburg Festival, review 
Complaints of the current dearth of great Verdi sopranos must cease until further notice: we are living through the prime of Anja Harteros, a singer with the beauty of timbre, dignity of style, amplitude of voice and grandeur of presence to rival Leontyne Price, Rosa Ponselle and more distant legends.

Her Elisabetta in Salzburg’s new production of Don Carlo is quite simply sublime: majestically phrased, rich in nuance, clear of diction and moving easily from immaculately floated pianissimo to sterling fortissimo. Her “Tu che le vanità” takes us as near to heaven as we earthlings will ever reach.

And – wonder of wonders – she has a tenor to match her. In three heart-rending duets, she struggles not to love the magnificent Jonas Kaufmann, who combines absolute technical stability with the highest musical intelligence – and a nobly handsome profile – to paint a vividly powerful portrait of Don Carlo’s troubled psyche.

This peerless pair were inevitably the performance’s beating heart, but they did not eclipse their first-class colleagues: Thomas Hampson, a poised and assured Posa; Ekaterina Semenchuk, who knocked us for six with an enthralling “O don fatale”; and Eric Halfvarson, a terrifyingly implacable Grand Inquisitor.

Matti Salminen was dramatically perhaps too benign and bemused as Filippo, but his singing had regal authority to burn. There were also admirable contributions from Maria Celeng as Tebaldo, the sextet of Flemish deputies and the Vienna Staatsoper chorus.

The evening’s other hero was Antonio Pappano, conducting the Vienna Philharmonic in an urgently intense and powerfully theatrical reading incorporating material from the opera’s early versions into an excellent text. Whoever played the cello solo at the opening of Act 4 deserves a very shiny medal.

And the production? What production? There may be nothing distractingly outré, fussed-up or bizarre about Peter Stein’s staging, and his designers’ concept of pale-coloured walls offset by black period costumes will cause no offence beyond the long tension-killing scene changes that the sets seem to require.

But it is hard to believe that anyone with Stein’s reputation should put his name to a spectacle so blank, lazy and unimaginative. No attempt has been made to create atmosphere or explore character. His management of the chorus is risibly inept, and in every other respect, his hand has been perfunctory.

Stein may be revered throughout Europe, but here it looks as though the Emperor is wearing no clothes.

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