Verdi Don Carlo
This production 18 months ago at the Netherlands Opera was Chailly’s swansong with the Concertgebouw. Choosing the four-act 1884 version, as Muti did at La Scala, he takes a long time to settle. Hurried speeds and a lack of poetry and breadth in his interpretation persist until Act 3, when the nobility of the score and its subtle colouring at last begin to assert themselves. He is hardly helped by Willy Decker’s somewhat confused staging, set in a grey, movable unit-set, mainly depicting stones commemorating Philip II’s predecessors, apparently an enlarged, exaggerated version of the Escurial crypt. This constricts the action to the front of the stage, a limiting factor, especially in the Auto-da-fé scene.
Decker’s direction of the principals provides both intelligent insights into relationships along with many bêtises that surely go against the composer’s intentions. He also has a penchant to have the characters rushing back and forth across the stage, which seems unnecessary and distracting. On the other hand, he certainly manages to get some revelatory performances from some of the singers, particularly from Villazón who enacts Carlos’s neurotic, ill-adjusted personality more successfully than any tenor in my experience. That he sings the role with so much full-throated intensity and such arresting phraseology makes his portrayal something to treasure.
In the veteran stage of his career, Robert Lloyd brings to bear all his long experience in portraying the tormented King with complete conviction allied to a voice that has lost only a little of its power and lustre. His scene with the mighty Inquisitor of Jaakko Ryhänen, sung in deeply sonorous and grand tones, is perhaps the most impressive in the whole performance. Dwayne Croft sings a secure but rather uninteresting Rodrigo and his tall figure is least suited by the pantaloons in which the male characters are dressed.
The distaff side of the cast is, for different reasons, not that impressive. As Elisabetta, Amanda Roocroft’s fixed expression of worry throughout and her often strained singing are sad to behold and hear. By contrast, Violeta Urmana has all the vocal wherewithal for Eboli but gives a dull, generalised reading of the part, punchy but never sensual or subtle.
If you want the 1884 recension of the work I would marginally prefer Muti’s set; but in virtually every respect, the Pappano DVD of the original French version is the one to have; there you sense the full value of Verdi’s original and preferable thoughts in an intelligent, finely sung and directed performance.