Thursday, July 23, 2015

DON CARLOS - Opera Australia

By Giuseppe Verdi 

Don Carlos - Opera Australia
Photo: Jamie Williams
Conductor: Andrea Licata
Director: Elijah Moshinsky
Designer: Paul Brown
Lighting Designer: Nigel Levings   
Opera Australia
Joan Sutherland Theatre – Sydney Opera House until August 15.

Performance 17th July, reviewed by Bill Stephens

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 own wife. 

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.
Daniel Sumegi (The Grand Inquisitor) Ferruccio Furlanetto (Phillip 11)
Photo: Jamie Williams
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, (Ferruccio 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.

Milijana Nikolic (Princess Eboli) Latonia Moore (Elisabeth)
Photo: Jamie Williams 

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 Handa Opera on the Harbour production of “Aida”.

Latonia Moore (Elisabeth) Ferruccio Furlanetto (Phillip 11)
Photo: Jamie Williams

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.

Milijana Nikolic (Princess Eboli) Diego Torre (Don Carlos)
Photo: Jamie Williams

By the way, if you’ve not yet discovered the Northern Foyer pop-up bar, make sure you seek it out next time you go to the opera house.  It’s very chic and glamorous, offers reasonable priced snacks, stunning harbour views, and a great addition to the opera-going experience. 

Northern Foyer Pop-up Bar
Photo: Bill Stephens
                                     This review also appears in Australian Arts Review.