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There is no question that Feruccio Furlanetto's voice is entirely fit for purpose when it comes to King Philip. This meant that Furlanetto's resounding tones often dominated, which again is entirely fitting. Furlanetto's Philip was perhaps not the greatest performance to have been witnessed at Covent Garden, but in an age of Verdian musical pygmies, Furlanetto is a towering giant and contributed a big hearted performance. He made you see the man under the monster, and you actually felt sorry for the silly old fool when he sang his aria opening Act 4. Then his scene with Eric Halfvarson's Grand Inquisitor was spine chilling stuff; Verdi at his most powerful delivered by two intensely moving and involving singers.
Nicholas Hyntner's production, in Bob Crowley's designs, was intelligent and immensely stylish. Crowley's costumes were mainly period (though those for the female chorus were a little wayward at times), with black predominating at the Spanish court. Crowley's designs were not completely historically accurate but this is hardly a history lesson, they were close enough to give the right flavour and establish character.
The sets were distinctly more stylised, practical and lovely to look at. The basic set for the opera was a box filling the entire stage consisting of black screens with smallish openings. Sometimes this was wholly or partially absent, but most scenes closed with a black screen descending in lieu of a curtain. Each time it did so, Don Carlo would be left alone on the fore-stage cut off from the rest of the action. This was profoundly poignant in Act 1 when the screen descended on the retreating form of Elizabeth, now acclaimed Queen of Spain.
Each scene had a particular colour palette and feeling. The Fontainebleau forest was all black and white, chilly and stylised; the monastery a black lowering space, cavernously dark with a tomb for Carlos V dominated by a pair of angels. The gardens outside of the monastery included a remarkable stylised red wall and views of distant fields full of poppies, surely a coded reference to the Flanders which crops up so often in the opera.
Copyright © 6 July 2008
Robert Hugill, London UK