Magazine article The Spectator

Verdi's Riches

Magazine article The Spectator

Verdi's Riches

Article excerpt

Don Carlo

Royal Opera House

Verdi's Don Carlo is as much of an obsession for me as one of my favourite operas. Though it isn't perfect, and can't be made perfect, whatever you include or eliminate from the extraordinary number of options available (including two languages), it has so many prolonged scenes of incontrovertible greatness, and their density increases as the opera proceeds, so that the last 80 minutes or so are all magnificent (ignoring the perfunctory endings of both the last two acts), that it seems to me obvious that it ranks with the Requiem as Verdi's finest work. Yet this richness brings the inevitable problem of casting a large number of roles from strength. And, since the narrative is not a straightforward one, such as Verdi almost always favours, whatever the ludicrous complications of his plots, the director and conductor must collaborate to maintain momentum and give the work all the shape they can.

One would expect, after his exemplary Così fan tutte for Glyndebourne, that Nicholas Hytner would be ideal for getting the characters in the drama to interact, especially Carlos and Elizabeth in their three great scenes together, which stand at the start, the centre and the end of the work. But though Rolando Villazón and Marina Poplavskaya are both competent actors, indeed he can be considerably more than that, their tormented relationship, moving rapidly from uncertainty to abandoned and appallingly brief happiness, to despair, resignation, and a final transcendence of their earthly wretchedness, is simply not brought to life. Like nearly everyone else on the stage, they make stock operatic gestures, stand yards apart at their most intimate moments and, above (or below) all, completely fail to disappear as performers and become characters. And in the case of Ferruccio Furlanetto, who sings Philip more securely, on the whole, than I anticipated, an element of verismo ham is permitted into his account of this stoical monarch, so that he even ended his great aria sobbing.

The production opens in the forest of Fontainebleau -- the Modena version is used, which is to say the five-act version with the cuts which Verdi had sanctioned by that stage, and with the Rodrigo-Philip encounter in its final form: Verdi was right to see that episode as central, and right, too, to feel that he needed to improve it from its earlier versions, but in my minority view it remains stronger as a dramatic confrontation than it is musically realised; the orchestral punctuations seem routine. …

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