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Don Carlo at London’s Royal Opera House: mediocre, missable

June 17, 2008
Verdi’s late-career Don Carlo is a fanciful rewrite of political shenanigans at the Habsburg court in mid-16thC Spain, just as its imperial power was peaking.

The score is only intermittently engaging. The libretto is tosh – a propagandist’s fairy tale. It’s dramatically weak, too, with some incomprehensible character motivation. And it’s far, far too long – Don Carlo could easily lose half of its 3 hours 30 running time without adversely affecting the telling of the tale.

So Saturday’s performance at London’s Royal Opera House was always going to be an uphill struggle.

The singing ranged from competent to utterly wonderful. Marina Poplavskaya, the Russian soprano playing Elizabeth, has a beautiful tone and impresses throughout her range. Baritone Simon Keenlyside was his usual Covent Garden self – commanding, authentic, inspired. It’s not difficult to see why he’s such a house favourite. I’d queue to watch these two fine artists sing almost anything.

Putative star Rolando Villazon, who missed much of the last year suffering from burn-out, was again, sadly, under the weather – suffering an “allergic reaction” in the first half, we were informed. He gamely continued, but was on half throttle thereafter.

I share the consensus view that Villazon’s a major tenor talent, but I’m becoming less inclined to book to see him – my last Villazon outing had been the ghastly popopera concert pairing with Ms Netrebko.

Great house band, as always. Staging/direction OK, a bit iffy.

Don Carlo, overall? Mediocre. Missable.

Gerry Smith