Don Carlo – opera in five acts in the Italian translation by Achille de Lauzières & Angelo Zanaradini after the French-language libretto by Camille du Locle & Joseph Méry based on the dramatic play Don Carlos, Infant von Spanien by Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller [1886 version; sung in Italian with English surtitles]
Don Carlos – Roberto Aronica
Tebaldo – Dušica Bijelic
Elizabeth of Valois – Lianna Haroutounian
Count of Lerma – Pablo Bemsch
Countess of Aremberg – Elizabeth Woods
Monk / Carlos V – Robert Lloyd
Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa – Mariusz Kwiecień
Philip II – Ferruccio Furlanetto
Princess Eboli – Béatrice Uria-Monzon
Priest Inquisitor – Téo Ghil
Flemish Deputies – Michel de Souza, Ashley Riches, Daniel Grice, ZhengZhong Zhou, Jihoon Kim & John Cunningham
Voice from Heaven – Susana Gaspar
Grand Inquisitor – Eric Halfvarson
Royal Opera Chorus
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Sir Antonio Pappano
Nicholas Hytner – Director
Paul Higgins – Revival director
Bob Crowley – Designs
Mark Henderson – Lighting design
Scarlett Mackmin – Movement Director
Terry King – Fight director
The Royal Opera – Verdi's Don Carlo [Roberto Aronica & Lianna Haroutounian; Antonio Pappano conducts Nicholas Hytner's production]
Tuesday, May 21, 2013 Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London
Reviewed by Kevin Rogers
This is the second revival of Nicholas Hytner’s conception of Don Carlo, a production of what is arguably Verdi’s greatest opera. All the outings of this staging have attracted stellar casts, this being no exception: Roberto Aronica here sang the eponymous role, Jonas Kaufmann having delivered it for the first five performances in this run of seven. Aronica delivered a characterisation infused with pathos: Don Carlos here not the usual wimp, but a noble man and still growing in stature. To begin with Aronica’s voice was a little shaky (he starts the opera off with a fiendish solo), but from Act Two his singing was full of ardour, his clarion tenor ringing with precision, and he had the gait of a youthful Pavarotti. Carlos is torn by love, and isolated by his father, whilst trying to do the right thing for the oppressed people of Flanders; Aronica kept such turmoil simmering throughout. His close comrade Rodrigo, an aristocrat who turns from a confidant of Philip II to the enemy of the Inquisition through supporting the Flemish) was magnificently sung and portrayed by Mariusz Kwiecień. He was convincing throughout, and was well-matched with Aronica: their Friendship Duet in Act Two, to stirring music, was thrilling and made Rodrigo’s later death (through assassination) in Carlos's arms all the more touching.
The rest of the male cast was also luxury. Ferruccio Furlanetto has sung in every performance of this production, and the authority he brings is mesmerising, his vocal range offering many hues and total clarity. Philip II’s Act Four musings on life, death, and the world beyond had all of this, oozing pathos, and introduced by a sublime cello solo; a standout moment, as was the next scene, where he is pitted against the Grand Inquisitor, who perversely dismisses Philip’s doubts about dispatching his own son so that he can then ask the King to destroy Rodrigo; Eric Halfvarson is a matchless Inquisitor and this was an electric encounter.
Robert Lloyd, as the monk or Carlos V, also held the stage. Verdi was ambiguous about whether this is the former emperor (Don Carlos thinks he sees the imperial vestments beneath the monk's cassock early in the opera), but Hytner has made his reappearance explicitly that of Carlos V, with him bearing crown and sceptre, insisting that suffering is unavoidable on Earth and only in Heaven is it ameliorated. Lloyd’s gravelly bass delivered every word with unforced authority, filling the House even with the quietest of pianissimos.
It’s also luxury casting on the distaff side, not least Lianna Haroutounian (added to the cast for four performances, and then doing six because of Anja Harteros's indisposition following the first night). To Elizabeth’s burgeoning love with Carlos, then steadfast loyalty to Philip II, Haroutounian brought conviction. Her voice was unflinching, and the final duet with Carlos was touched with resignation. As Princess Eboli, Béatrice Uria-Monzon disarmed with the ‘Veil Song’ of Act Three, and then provided this very serious opera with its only moment of humour: Carlos mistaking her for his stepmother. Uria-Monzon's confession to the Queen of her betrayal to the King poured from the heart.
Sir Antonio Pappano and his ROH Orchestra were magnificent, a riveting account of the score, mind-boggling in its concentration given he has also found time during this run to tour Italy with the LSO and give two London concerts with it (links below). Verdi’s music runs hot through Pappano’s veins. The playing was exceptional, whether sensitive or dramatic and everything in between, and the Chorus was in the same league.
The staging itself, although likeable to the eye, is perhaps inconsistent, although certainly illustrative when isolating Don Carlos from the others. The opening Fontainebleau Act (Pappano conducts the 1886 five-act revision of this might opera) evokes a real sense of place and feeling, and the second scene of Act Three is full of action when the crowd praises King Philip II and heretics are burnt. Costumes and scenery are apposite to 16th-century Spain. Such fidelity is welcome. Sometimes large spaces are called for but are instead cramped, and vice versa. The structure of the San Yuste Monastery is unconvincing, and Carlos V’s tomb, when first seen, goes travelling across the stage diagonally, which is odd. The great clash of church and state, of man and god, power and destiny, doesn’t always come across. But these are slight reservations given the splendour of the opera itself and the wonderful musicianship brought to it. The final performance is this Saturday, 25 May, beginning at 6 p.m.