Though it deals with weighty matters, politics and the human condition, Don Carlos is far from a heavy night at the opera. Crammed with lush melodies and absorbing characters, Don Carlos is rarely performed in this country, largely because of the huge resources needed to do it justice, both aural and physical.
However this finely detailed reworking by Opera Australia of Elijah Moshinsky’s 1999 production, with its spectacular Velazquez inspired sets and costumes, does the opera proud and offers a rare opportunity to catch up with this masterpiece.
The mood is set early as the curtain rises to reveal the interior of a lavish green marble mausoleum housing the tomb of Charles V. A giant shadow precedes the vision of a ghostly Charles V (David Parkin) as he enters, dressed as a monk, to observe the Crown Prince of Spain, Don Carlos (Diego Torre), seeking consolation for his sorrow at the news that his father Phillip 11 (Ferrucio Furlanetto), has claimed his fiancée, Elisabeth de Valois (Latonia Moore), for his bride.
Don Carlos is joined by his friend and advisor, Rodrigo (Jose Carbo in yet another outstanding performance) and together they pledge an oath to liberty in the first of several stirring male duets which occur throughout the opera. These duets reflect Verdi’s interest in expressing powerful emotions through the use of the singing voice, and this one provides the catalyst for the events which follow.
Opera Australia has gathered together some very fine voices for this production, nowhere demonstrated to more stunning effect than in the mighty duet between Phillip 11 and the Grand Inquisitor, (Ferrucio Furlanetto and Daniel Sumegi) which occurs during the second act when the Grand Inquisitor tries to persuade Phillip to kill both his son, Don Carlos, and Rodrigo. Both are exceptional singers, and both are fine actors with great presence. This scene, in which they are pitted against each, is absolutely electrifying.
While the two women’s roles are less prominent , both Latonia Moore, as Elisabeth, the pawn between Don Carlos and his father, Phillip 11, and Milijana Nikolic, (quite outstanding as the beautiful Princess Eboli, who harbours a passion for Don Carlos and who unwittingly causes his downfall), give memorable performances. It was also fascinating to see these two singers cast opposite each other again in roles not too dissimilar as those they portrayed so successfully in the recent Handa Opera on the Harbour production of Aida.
Paul Brown’s imposing marble settings and lavish Spanish court costumes ensure that the production looks suitably spectacular, reaching its zenith when the doors of the church are flung open during the spectacular and chilling ‘auto da fe’ scene, depicting the burning of the condemned heretics.
This production is rich with memorable moments, both vocal and visual, and once again the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra, in top form under Andrea Licata, gives a superb account of Verdi’s sumptuous score.
By the way, if you’ve not yet discovered the Northern Foyer pop-up bar, make sure you see it out next time you go to the opera. It’s very glamorous, offers reasonable priced snacks and stunning harbour views. It’s a great addition to the opera-going experience and very chic place to impress friends.
Joan Sutherland Theatre – Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point (Sydney)
Performance: Friday 17 July 2015 – 7.00pm
Season continues to 15 August 2015
Bookings: (02) 9318 8200 or online at: www.opera.org.au
For more information, visit: www.opera.org.au for details.
Image: Latonia Moore (Elisabeth de Valois) and José Carbó (Rodrigo, Count of Posa) in Opera Australia’s Don Carlos – photo by Jamie Williams.
Review: Bill Stephens