A Compelling Portrait
Verdi's 'Don Carlos'
impresses MIKE WHEELER
Even in its truncated, four-act version, Verdi's Don Carlos is a big work, in every sense. A air of brooding massiveness permeates Tim Albery's production for Opera North (Theatre Royal, Nottingham, UK, 17 June 2009), emphasised by the huge, oppressively dark walls of Hildegard Bechtler's set. Even the garden of Act One, Scene Two, is hemmed in by them.
Julian Gavin's Carlos is every inch the anguished idealist, combining a genuinely heroic ring to the voice with a credible layer of vulnerability. William Dazeley's warm, dependable Rodrigo is the perfect foil. Their assertion of their commitment, to each other and their shared ideals, in their Act One duet is a moment of blazing humanity amid the political machinations and double dealing.
As Philip the Second, Alistair Miles gives a compelling portrait of both the king who is very conscious of his absolute authority and his need to maintain a dignified bearing in public, and the lonely private individual giving way to his weariness of spirit, and in awe of Clive Bayley's richly sonorous Grand Inquisitor, who is cold and implacable rather than sinister.
Jane Dutton turns Princess Eboli from cooing dove to spitting cat in an instant; the Act 2 Trio is a gripping piece of dramatic cut-and-thrust. Susannah Glanville's Elizabeth of Valois conveys a vivid sense of someone struggling to preserve her dignity, although her facial expressions as she hears Eboli confess to stealing her jewel box are somewhat stereotypical.
As in Opera North's previous Verdi stagings, this is above all a powerful ensemble production, with the chorus making an authentically thrilling Verdian sound. The orchestral playing shimmers one moment, is full of stark menacing power the next. Conductor Richard Farnes paces the first three acts superbly, though there is not much anyone can do about the dramatically unsatisfactory last act, with its long drawn-out farewell for Rodrigo and Elizabeth and the suddenly-it's-all-over deus ex machina appearance of Charles the Fifth's ghost. Andrew Porter's English text is serviceable, but doesn't altogether avoid moments of clunky translation-ese.
All in all, though, another Verdi triumph from Opera North.
Copyright © 27 June 2009
NOTTINGHAM THEATRE ROYAL