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Thursday 9 May 2013

Don Carlo at ROH: Take 2


See my main review here for my main comments on this show.

Sadly and perhaps too predictably, Anja Harteros cancelled (suffering from "acute tonsillitis" as we were assured by Kasper Holten at the start of the show) so thank god she did turn up for the first night at least. (As a side note, I don't know where Intermezzo gets her information from, but I have heard a conflicting account of Harteros' future hiring at the ROH - i.e. that there are future contracts.)

Her replacement was Lianna Haroutounian, an Armenian soprano making her ROH debut (and already stepping to fill the final four perfomances of this run of Don Carlo which Harteros cancelled a couple of months ago.) She understandably got a huge cheer at the end of the night, but aside from a reasonably good "Tu che le vanità" I found this to be a rather lacklustre performance. Until then the chest and middle voice had been very modest indeed, and throughout the timbre was curiously unvibrant and not very attractive. She is a very controlled singer at least, though her high notes were consistently a shade flat.

I forgot to mention in my main review that Eric Halfvarson had a throat infection during the first night performance, though one hardly noticed. Here he was on even finer form, his voice more focused and powerful, and his Act IV solo passages and then the duet with King Philip II (Ferruccio Furlanetto) were even more thrilling than they were on the first night. Staggering.

Béatrice Uria-Monzon was on better form too with a marginally more accurate Veil Song, and a quite brilliant "O Don Fatale". I was trying to work out what made her so engaging to watch on stage, but couldn't put my finger on it. She moves a lot which can often be distracting and can come across as nervyness or mugging in other performers, but here she just seemed to live onstage, and her exceptional grace and fluidity of movement meant that there was never any question of the problems mentioned. It's always tempting to call it "naturalness" onstage, that is there is nothing artificial that draws attention to the actor rather than the character, but I'm not sure that that is specific enough. And it's not just looks - yes she's naturally beautiful, but there are other beautiful singers around who are not captivating onstage in this way. In any case, I felt sorry for her at the curtain call because she got such modest cheers compared to the others, I'm guessing for the same reasons I gave in my main review: for me she will stick most in my mind I'm sure along with Halfvarson and Furlanetto. Will have to keep thinking what made her so appealing.

Which brings me to Jonas Kaufmann, and something that was slightly nagging me after the first performance. Yes he is a spectacular singer, and probably the best tenor on earth. But actually, having seen his Carlos twice now, there's actually very little that is memorable about what he was doing. Whether this was the lack of matching of voice and repertoire (however expertly performed), or a lack of sympathy with the direction of this production, there was something slightly generic about this performance, acting and singing wise, even although it was committed. Again I'm comparing him to his own high standards so make of this what you will.

The other thing that this performance brought to mind was this: I think I'm one of the few people that prefers the four act version of Don Carlos. I seem to read endlessly that the five act version is preferable because it gives more context for the story and characters, but musically Act I of the five act version is easily the thinnest Act, and I don't think it actually does explain their relationship that well. Why is Carlos so desperately and helplessly infatuated? Why is he so totally incapacitated by this love? These questions are not answered by the music or libretto of Act I, so a director really needs to do something extra here to justify it. I think usually it's going to be much stronger if we implicitly supply our own ideas and backstory - imagination based on suggestion is usually more powerful than literal presentation because it's not so pat, so closed, so explained - we can apply our own truth/reasoning/psychologising to an ambiguity whereas we are forced to either accept or reject a director's explicit idea if we are presented with it. Obviously there's a line, and it cant be too abstracted or open or its alienating or just confusing, but there's a huge middle ground here. Additionally there's the matter of the lovely music cut from the four act version to make room for the new First Act in the five Act version. Hmm.


  1. I've really enjoyed both your DC review posts. First time I've seen the opera (though I am not an opera novice). Bought tickets in part for the Jonas show and you are quite right that under this directing he is quite overshadowed, particularly by Posa, Phillip etc. I'm not sure he does clownish fool that well. In contrast, watching him as serious lover/ warrior in Die Walkure is mesmerising.

  2. Thank you. Agreed that Siegmund is close to ideal for him, and may turn out to be "his" role when we look back at this period. Lohengrin also seems to fit very well indeed. See here for my comments on his Wagner CD: