REVIEW: DON CARLO, Covent Garden

PUBLISHED: 11:28 19 June 2008 | UPDATED: 15:09 07 September 2010

The new Royal Opera production of Verdi s Don Carlo is the hot ticket of the season and in some ways deserves to be. Magisterially conducted by Antonio Pappano, the orchestral sound is handsome and the singing wonderful,

REVIEW: DON CARLO, Covent Garden

The new Royal Opera production of Verdi's Don Carlo is the hot ticket of the season and in some ways deserves to be. Magisterially conducted by Antonio Pappano, the orchestral sound is handsome and the singing wonderful, with individual performances - Simon Keenlyside's impeccable Rodrigo, Eric Halfvarson's blood-curdling Grand Inquisitor, and Ferrucio Furlanetto's truly king-sized Philip II - of good-as-it-gets quality.

But the two things that gave this show its advance cachet don't deliver as expected.

One is the young superstar tenor Rolando Villazon making his first London appearance since his career went into overdrive last year and he stoppped singing after some kind of breakdown. Exactly what happened remains mysterious, and having interviewed him at length earlier this year I'm still not sure whether the problem was mental or physical. Either way, he's back in business, thank God. But is the voice back? Well, not quite. It's granier, with less liquidity and resonance. And though he gives 110 per cent in the title role of Don Carlos, alive and intense, that voice feel pushed. Almost to instability.

The other slight disappointment is the production by Nicholas Hytner, who hasn't done a new opera staging in London for a while (hence the expectations) and who has approached this seething, complicated epic of socio-political conflict in 16th century Spain with a cool head and a quest for clarity.

Result: the one-to-one encounters are impressive but the context is clinical. Playing on bland, abstracted sets that try to be stylish but only succeed in looking empty, the show just doesn't work hard enough to hook your emotions. That my seat was half a mile from the stage didn't help, but I felt disengaged from much of the action - other than the auto da fe scene which is so nasty you sense an anti-clerical agenda at work. But then, the church never does come out of this opera smelling of anything but brimstone and burning flesh.

Michael White


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