The Verdian Line

Verdi – Don Carlo

Don Carlo – Jonas Kaufmann

Tebaldo – Dušica Bijelić

Elisabetta – Anja Harteros

Conte di Lerma – Pablo Bemsch

Rodrigo – Mariusz Kwiecien

Filippo II – Ferruccio Furlanetto

Eboli – Béatrice Uria-Monzon

Carlo V – Robert Lloyd

Grande Inquisitore – Eric Halfvarson

Royal Opera Chorus, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House / Antonio Pappano.

Stage Director – Nicholas Hytner (revived by Paul Higgins).

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London. Saturday, May 4th, 2013

To cut a long story short, I ended up procuring a last-minute ticket for tonight’s opening of the revival of Don Carlo at the Royal Opera House.  I had already booked for later in the run but as a decent enough seat had become available and I wanted to see what Anja Harteros was about, then I took it.

This was an exceptional evening in the theatre and certainly one of the best evenings I have had in years at the Royal Opera House.  This was the first night in a revival of Nicholas Hytner’s 2008 production and it’s a show, while not being the kind of production I would actively seek out, that offers an engaging interpretation of Verdi and Schiller’s work.  It has also been quite magnificently cast.

Anja Harteros is a singer whom I have not previously heard live.  She comes with a reputation for being a great artist but also one who cancels frequently and who has helped many a soprano boost their career with late substitutions.  I can safely say having seen her live that I completely understand those people who book in the hope that she will actually sing.  She was unmistakably magnificent.  The voice is round, rich, even throughout the range with a glorious top and rich bottom.  It has wonderful amplitude and carries very easily through the theatre.  She also has a beautiful sense of line and an ability to phrase the music impeccably.  ‘Tu che le vanita’ was fabulously sung, every possible detail in place and she also offered some exquisite pianissimi.  A remarkable artist and one I would very much like to hear again if possible, especially in Verdi – she has a Trovatore Leonora coming up and this is a role that should fit her perfectly – and in Strauss (I would love to hear her do Chrysothemis).

Mariusz Kwiecien is a big favourite of mine and tonight he and Harteros very easily offered the best singing in an exceptional cast.  Again, he has it all – that golden, burnished baritone that just hits the senses and takes them hostage, a wonderful sense of line with the music phrased to perfection and seemingly endless breath control.  His singing is so elegant and aristocratic.  He is also an affecting actor, his final aria and death scene had me on the edge of my seat and completely dragged me into his performance.  I am so glad to see that he is back on exceptional form.  An outstanding artist.  The best part of his performance was seeing an artist capable of great things simply exceed all expectations and producing something very special.

Both Ferruccio Furlanetto and Eric Halfvarson were superb.  Furlanetto bringing a lifetime of experience to his role, his monologue again beautifully phrased and sung.  Halfvarson’s Inquistor, with an apology made for the remnants of a cold, was exceptionally sung, the evil encapsulated in his jet-black tone with a gloriously open lower register.

Jonas Kaufmann’s Carlo was also excellent.  He started off slightly hesitantly with the voice sounding quite constricted to my ears but as the evening developed it opened up beautifully and he produced singing that was both ardent and sensitive.  His interjections in the auto da fé scene were wonderfully open and he produced some quite exquisite pianissimi with Harteros in the final act.  This was actually the first time I had heard him in an opera and it struck me that the voice wasn’t quite as large as I remember it being from the recitals I had seen him in.

Béatrice Uria-Monzon’s Eboli had lots of spirit. The veil song was not as elegant as it could have been but she brought everything she had to ‘o don fatale’.  I found the voice to be a bit soft-grained and lacking the cutting power of the greatest Ebolis but on her own terms she sang very well.  The chorus sang well, the ladies a bit on the squally side at times but the men were excellent (especially in the tricky unaccompanied sections in act 2).  The orchestra played splendidly, some fabulous brass playing especially but there was also great warmth from the strings.

Antonio Pappano’s conducting was the only slight disappointment.  I have to say that the pacing of the first two acts didn’t quite work for me, it felt a bit disjointed and lacked the fluency that Nicola Luisotti’s Nabucco of a few weeks ago had.  Things certainly improved during the rest of the evening but I found that Pappano seemed to favour short-term effects rather than the long view.  The finale was absolutely stunning, that brass motif as Charles Quint reveals himself was thrilling.

Overall this was a highly memorable evening one that did real justice to Verdi’s work. It was exceptionally performed with a cast of the very highest level.  If there was one thing that struck me about the very best singing of the night it was the sense of line, of understanding the shape and the ebb and flow of Verdi’s melodies that stands out the most.  I am very much looking forward to seeing it again in a couple weeks’ time.

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