Don Carlo - Royal Opera House, 3 July 2008 (final performance)
This final performance in the current run of Covent Garden's Don Carlo was also broadcast live and free via big screen to audiences in London and Liverpool. Given the dismally wet weather all day, I was glad to be sitting in the comparative comfort of the Royal Opera House, even if my cheapie slips seat gave a less than perfect view of the proceedings.
I found myself even less impressed by the production's visuals than I had been first time round. Partly the near-vertical viewing angle no doubt, and I also suspect some of the lighting effects had been eliminated to accomodate broadcasting requirements, but most of it looked as depressingly cheap as a railway station waiting room.
Hytner's production is an intelligent one though. The first act of this five act version is not just a bunch of extra tunes. The last act ends with the final parting of Carlos and Elisabetta; this first act explains at length how they meet. As well as dramatic symmetry, it provides the premise of the whole story. A production which emphasises the wider political element of the opera might be acceptable for the four act version, but here Hytner correctly concentrates on the relationships.
Ferruccio Furlanetto's Philip was if anything even better than his stupendous performance on the first night. Can we have him back again soon pls? In fact everyone sang better at a technical level, Poplavskaya in particular enjoying largely perfect intonation and a clean upper register. And by casting relatively light voices throughout, a rare balance was achieved.
And the furry-browed question mark himself, Rolando Villazón, fell off his 'horse' with a couple of major wobbles - both may I note at moments of extreme emotion rather than technical challenge - but otherwise delivered a thrilling, passionate and heartfelt performance. Villazón's most wonderful and precious gift is to make you believe every word he sings. It's something few singers can do, and surely worth the price of the odd slip. My only regret is that I didn't get to see more performances in the run.
Anyone still wondering whether Villazon can really hack Don Carlos might want to check out this recording of Dio, che nell'alma infondere, recorded in Vienna on 28 June, with Domingo as Posa. Incidentally it shows how very different the lazily-labelled 'new Domingo' and the not-so-new Domingo sound: