Verdi – Don Carlo
Don Carlo – Russell Thomas
Tebaldo – Alexandra Hutton
Elisabetta – Anja Harteros
Conte di Lerma – Álvaro Zambrano
Rodrigo – Dalibor Jenis
Filippo II – Hans-Peter König
Eboli – Violeta Urmana
Carlo V – Tobias Kehrer
Grande Inquisitore – Albert Pesendorfer
Chor der Deutschen Oper Berlin, Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin / Donald Runnicles.
Stage Director – Marco Arturo Marelli
Deutsche Oper, Berlin. Saturday, November 16th, 2013.
Somehow it seems that Don Carlo, in one of its many versions, brings out the very best in its interpreters. Having seen an exceptional Don Carlo back in May at the Royal Opera House, I am now incredibly lucky to have seen another one at the Deutsche Oper. I was fortunate enough to see the Royal Opera’s Don Carlo twice, once with Anja Harteros and again with Lianna Haroutounian. On both occasions, I was particularly struck by the performances of Mariusz Kwiecien as Posa and Feruccio Furlanetto as Philip and it was very difficult to erase these two portrayals from my mind. At the same time, I would not wish to do a disservice to the excellent singers in those particular roles tonight. Ultimately, opera is an ephemeral form and something that one watches simply lives in the memory for a long time afterwards.
I regret that tonight we received the four-act Italian version. One really misses the first act and its setting up of the back story between Carlo and Elisabetta but also the opportunity to hear Carlo sing ‘io la vidi’. Any references I make to acts in this post will refer to the five-act version. Tonight the work was outstandingly sung, played and conducted at the very highest level.
Russell Thomas is a young artist who is rapidly gaining recognition in the Italian repertoire. There is no doubt that he is a major talent and very much the real thing. He has a warmth and generosity to the tone that is perfect for this repertoire yet there is so much more than that. He is an incredibly sensitive artist – there were some remarkable diminuendi and pianissimi – and his attention to text is exemplary. The voice has real amplitude and Italianate richness. He is definitely a singer to watch. Violeta Urmana has entered the next stage of her career. Having seen her give one of the most stunning Verdi performances I have ever seen as Amelia in Ballo in Madrid in 2008, tonight she gave us an outstanding Eboli, one of the very finest I have heard. She is such a warm and generous singer and her silky, velvety voice has gained additional fruitiness. She is one of the few singers to completely nail the veil song and ‘don fatale’. The veil song was spot on, every note in place, beautifully done. ‘Don fatale’ was just sensational, the middle of the voice was rich and warm and the top was stunning, the final note seemingly held on forever. In fact it’s the best I have heard that aria sung live. I’m very much looking forward to her Isolde in Vienna next month. The Act 3 trio with Posa and Carlo was show-stopping.
Posa was sung by Dalibor Jenis who brought a fine legato and was certainly very impressive with some excellent breath control. The Carlo/Posa duet was wonderfully done, there was real blend between the singers and it built up to a magnificent climax. His ‘per me giunto’ was beautifully shaded and sung but didn’t quite move me in the way this aria has done in the past. Hans-Peter König was a very fine Philip. The voice had real richness and he was an affecting actor. Yet the in the confrontation scene between Posa and Philip the sparks just didn’t fly in the way that they can.
Then there was Harteros. She is now at her absolute peak. The voice has incredible amplitude, its wonderful combination of pearl and cream filled the house beautifully. Her ‘tu che le vanità’ was again a highlight, the diminuendo on ‘Francia’ so exquisitely, beautifully done, the voice so totally under the control of its owner. She had an occasional tendency to sing sharp but nothing that disturbed too much. What struck, as in London, was the line and her ability to sing phrases that seemed to go on for ever. I am very much looking forward to seeing her in Forza in Munich in January.
Runnicles’ conducting was quite simply sensational. He delivered an exceptionally fluent and gripping reading of the score. It was quite frankly, for me, in a different league from Pappano’s disjointed and laboured conducting in London. While Don Carlo is undoubtedly Verdi’s masterpiece, it is a piece that needs a helping hand and Runnicles offered this in flowing tempi and exceptional rhythmic precision. The second half of act 3, with the auto da fé, the opening of which can sound flaccid in the wrong hands, here was crisp and clear. Perhaps the scene between the Grand Inquisitor and Philip might have been taken a little slower but there was a momentum there that was completely compelling. Everything flowed so well from one section to the next, it was, undoubtedly, a major achievement. The choral singing also was striking in its blend and amplitude – there was a real homogeneity to the sound that was deeply impressive. The orchestra sounded fantastic in the Deutsche Oper acoustic offering playing that was virtuosic in its richness.
Staging-wise I must admit that I much preferred it to Hytner’s. There were several touches that worked well – Eboli seen with the King at the start of Act 4 making it clear that she had betrayed Carlo; the constant presence of the Flemish deputies towards the end, the way the people rallied around Carlo at the start of the auto da fé. This was an impressive interpretation that really brought to life the clerical dictatorship in which the story operates in a way that was deeply impressive. Just like Runnicles’ conducting, the production had a fluency that was completely at the service of the work.
To see one exceptional performance of Don Carlo in a year is exceptionally fortunate, to see two is just amazing and I am so privileged to have been able to see them. Yet tonight also introduced me to a important new tenor, one who has a lot of promise in this repertoire and also allowed me to see two favourite singers excelling themelves. An exceptional evening.