High melodrama and aural pleasures: Don Carlo

Jonas Kaufmann and Mariusz Kweicien in Don Carlo © ROH/Catherine Ashmore, 2013The Royal Opera's revival of its 2008 production of Don Carlo is a thrilling and breathtaking evening. This opera has it all. Grand spectacle, high melodrama, romance gone wrong, and enough plots and subplots for several operas. But the fine vocal and dramatic performances from the cast and thrilling sounds from the orchestra under the baton of Antonio Pappano take this revival to another level. The evening was going to be long anyway with this four hour opera, but the extra pauses due to the audience bursting into applause and cheering throughout meant helped savour every moment. And there were many of them.

Jonas Kaufman as the doomed hero Don Carlo deftly handled the role with with both vocal clarity and drama. The same can be said for Anja Harteros as Elizabeth the French princess who was to marry Carlos but has to marry his father in order to consolidate the peace between France and Spain.  As one woman quipped over ice creams at interval to another, "Well that's what we had to do back then..." Mariusz Kweicien as the idealist Rodrigo and Béatrice Uria-Monzon as Princess Eboli who also loved Carlos and the mistress of the king round out the cast of fine performances.

Picture 017The production looks its best when it is evokes Escorial, the austere and fortress-like royal palace, part monastery where most of the action takes place. The real-life palace is daunting and here its shapes and shadows are used to great effect. As it is set during the Spanish Inquisition, there is also an auto-da-fé that ends the second act with a few charred mannequins doubling for heretics and some lacklustre smoke that seemed more fizzle than fire. But given there is so much in this work, this moment is easily forgotten.

Of course the real life Don Carlo, who was the result of a great deal of royal interbreeding was a deformed character who became slightly mad by most accounts. But whatever the facts and black legend may be, Renaissance Spain (and France) probably never sounded better with this orchestra and cast. The four hours and two intervals of high drama, dubious history and fine music making make it a night to remember.

The current run is sold out but there are 67 day seats available from 10am at the box office. If you do mornings and get there early. Returns are also posted back online when they become available...

Pictures: Jonas Kaufmann and Mariusz Kweicien in Don Carlo during their thrilling duet about freedom. Photo by Catherine Ashmore, 2013. The other picture was from me during one moody moonlit night outside Escorial.

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