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Highly Intelligent

Verdi's 'Don Carlo',
reviewed by ROBERT HUGILL


Singers with good Verdi voices are in short supply at the moment, so opera houses have to be a little imaginative with their casting to make things work. With Verdi's Don Carlo, even in the 1886 version, Verdi's revised five-act version, the title role is long and arduous. Don Carlo and Elizabeth do not necessarily need huge dramatic voices, but they require voices which have an element of steel to them. Monsterrat Caballé was an Elizabeth par excellence, able to spin long lines but also with the underlying steel to cut over the orchestra. Similarly Don Carlo was a role which suited the young Placido Domingo who had the flexibility and stamina for the role (the Don Carlo in the 1884 première of the revised four-act version in Milan was Francesco Tamagno who would go on to create Otello).

The Royal Opera House had persuaded the Mexican tenor Rolando Villazon, back from his self-imposed absence, to undertake Don Carlo. This was not Villazon's first outing in the role but his biography lists no other performances of this role, nor of any other comparably taxing role. There is no doubt that Villazon has the stamina to undertake the role, after all singing the title role in a full version of The Tales of Hoffman is hardly a light undertaking. But the role is definitely a stretch for him. We heard the final performance of Nicholas Hyntner's new production at Covent Garden on 3 July 2008, and Villazon sounded distinctly tired by Act IV, but recovered in the final Act. What he lacked was the cushioning that a bigger voice gives you; he had to sing long passages at full stretch. Also Villazon's voice is not the most opulent of instruments and having to sing loudly over a large orchestra for such a time tended to emphasise this fact.

His performance of Don Carlo was successful and entirely creditable. But if he wants to keep on singing Edgardo, Nemorino, Rodolfo and Hoffmann, all of which he has scheduled for the 2008/09 season, then he had better keep his run of heavy operas down to a minimum.

Villazon's Don Carlo was involving and moving, once you got beyond the fact that Hyntner had been unable to persuade the tenor to expand his rather limited range of body movements and expressions. He had a fine sense of Verdian line and was happy to sing quietly, so there was no sense of the role being screamed constantly. Villazon's account was shapely and intelligent, music sung with sense and in real paragraphs. It was perhaps unfortunate that in his black 16th century outfit he bore an alarming resemblance to Blackadder.

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Copyright © 6 July 2008 Robert Hugill, London UK


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