Grand opera doesn’t come much grander than this – Verdi’s fourth revision of ‘Don Carlo’, the five-act score dating from 1886. Based on Schiller’s play of stolen love, political intrigue, religious hatred and dominance, jealousy, familial recrimination and tragedy, it’s no wonder Verdi had some difficulty keeping it down to three and a half hours.
Directed by Nicholas Hytner, this is a colourful and symbolic production (revived by Paul Higgins) built to last – costumes and scenery are apposite to sixteenth-century Spain, spectacularly so in the second scene of Act III, when the crowd praises King Philip II and heretics are burnt. Don Carlos is to marry the beautiful Elizabeth of Valois, but his father the king claims her hand for himself, creating an intense personal and political conflict between father and son. It’s all totally compelling.
Bringing this stupendous opera to life is a stellar cast. Jonas Kaufmann is in fine form as Don Carlos, his voice used with intelligence and supported by decent acting. Anja Harteros makes the unhappily married Elizabeth very affecting and sings magnificently, as does Mariusz Kwiecien as the faithful Rodrigo. Ferruccio Furlanetto’s King Philip is imposing yet vulnerable, and Eric Halfvarson is quite terrifying as the Grand Inquisitor, for all his blindness and infirmity.
Verdi’s use of the orchestra ranges from the finely drawn to the tumultuous, from the poignant to the thrilling, and Antonio Pappano conducts the superb ROH Orchestra with vivid characterisation, every subtlety and dramatic impulse perfectly delivered. You will not find a more satisfying night at the opera than this. Colin Anderson
THE BOTTOM LINE Outstanding grand opera. A highlight of the year.