A Grand Night at the Opera


 Verdi: Don Carlos   Soloists, Chorus of the Zurich Opera, Philharmonia Zurich, conductor: Fabio Luisi, Zurich Opera, Zurich. 21.2.14 (JR)


Elisabeth: Lianna Haroutounian
King Philip: René Pape
Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa: Michael Volle
Don Carlos : Fabio Sartori
The Grand Inquisitor : Rafal Siwek
A monk: Scott Conner
Princess Eboli: Veronica Simeoni
Tebaldo: Julia Riley
Voice from heaven: Sen Guo
Royal Herald: Kristofer Lundin
Flemish deputies: Alexei Botnarciuc, Christoph Filler, Alex Lawrence, Roberto Lorenzi, Oleg Loza and Christoph Seidl

Director: Sven-Eric Bechtolf
Dramaturgy: Nina Russi
Sets: Rolf Glittenberg
Costumes: Marianne Glittenberg
Lighting: Jürgen Hoffmann
Chorus: Ernst Raffelsberger

Zurich Opera have rightly revived this popular 2011 Sven-Eric Bechtolf production of Don Carlos. The curtain rises to reveal a darkened and black room (in the cloisters of the monastery San Giusto), a row of hooded black monks with their backs to the audience, a giant black skull lying next to a lying golden skeleton of Carlos V, father to King Philip, grandfather to Don Carlos. It is a chilling sight. After the monks have intoned their hymn to the deceased and the head Monk has added his personal elegy (American bass Scott Conner not quite reaching that awesome bottom note), we meet Don Carlos, in this production sung by Italian tenor Fabio Sartori. His fine tenor voice was a bit tight at first but soon opened up and started to impress. Acting and movement are, however, not Sartori’s strengths and the Director (or his revival deputy) did him no favours. At one stage he had to lie on the top of four steps. Having got down with some visible difficulty, he threatened to roll down the steps into the pit.

Michael Volle as Rodrigo was in full, warm voice, not entirely ideal with his Italian diction and a shade too old for the part. He came over as a slightly arthritic but kindly uncle to Don Carlos, not his young friend. Volle’s flapping movements and quirky grimaces were out of place and brought his (admittedly fine) Beckmesser to mind.

René Pape as King Philip was aptly imperious and still a marvel vocally. His grand aria “Ella giammai m’amo” was impeccably delivered. Veronica Simeoni sang (and acted) a first-rate Princess Eboli and her two show-stoppers, the veil song and “O don fatale” were faultless.

Lianna Haroutounian has sung Elisabeth for Pappano at Covent Garden recently; her soprano is pure and she utilises her sweet tone to full advantage. She was dignified in appearance, aided by some dazzling costumes. Originally Marina Poplavskaya was to have sung the role, but Zurich Opera found a wonderful replacement.

Rafal Siwek was a fine Grand Inquisitor though I have seen more chilling entrances in other production; he scares the King himself and should frighten the audience too.

Julia Riley continues to impress in Zurich, this time as Tebaldo, as did Sen Guo from the heavens – though I thought the accompanying harp from the back of the Amphitheatre too loud.

The Flemish deputies, all taken from Zurich Opera’s International Opera Studio, a school for up-and-coming opera singers, were a fine young ensemble.

Wiry Music Director Fabio Luisi in the pit is a wonder to behold and the orchestra play at their very best for him (one unfortunate horn player in the opening bars apart). Luisi’s reading of this dramatic grand opera surely cannot be bettered.

Producer Sven-Eric Bechtolf created some wonderful tableaux, particularly the rows of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting fanning themselves in Iberian heat, briefly stopping their waving fans at appropriate moments in Eboli’s veil aria. Costumes by Marianne Glittenberg were a successful mix of the old and the new, mainly in varying shades of black, but with spectacular added gold and glitter for the Queen. The King did not look particularly regal in comparison. Don Carlos’ costume never made him look remotely appealing and, were I the Queen, I would stick with the more imposing René Pape and happily give Don Carlos to Princess Eboli.

The Auto-da-fé, the ritual of public penance of condemned heretics, was rather tame, with not a flagellated heathen in sight. A tank of fire was borne across the stage, only to disappear on the other side. A mass of giant twisted white crucifixes at the back did rise and glow at the end and a gaggle of monks descended front-stage on the Flemish contingent but no violence was hinted at despite the male chorus’ vocal description of apocalyptic terror. At least the usual Ku Klux Klan members were mercifully absent.

The chorus was its usual impressive self, only once did a lack of ensemble hint at a shortage of rehearsal time with the orchestra.

Don Carlos almost always makes a very grand night at the opera: in this sensible production, with fine voices and conducting, this was no exception.

John Rhodes

Print Friendly


Comments are closed.

Recent Reviews


Season Previews

  • NEW! The Cleveland Orchestra’s 2018 Blossom Music Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! LA Opera’s 2018/19 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Buxton Festival 2018 and its New CEO __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music at the Barbican in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • NEW! Violinist Liza Ferschtman Celebrates Bernstein’s Centenary in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Piccadilly Chamber Music Series in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera and More in Buenos Aires in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Gloucester Choral Society’s Hubert Parry’s Centenary Celebrations in May 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Spend a Penny for Grange Park Opera’s Lavatorium Rotundum __________________________________
  • NEW! Bampton Classical Opera in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! The 2018 Lucerne Summer Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! Leeds Lieder’s Forthcoming Schubert Song Series in Leeds and Sheffield __________________________________
  • NEW! Contemporary Music from Manchester’s Psappha in 2017-18 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! I Musicanti’s Alexandra and the Russians at St Johns Smith Square in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Anna Netrebko and Yusif Eyvazov’s Return to London in May 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! St John’s Smith Square announces its 2017/18 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! The Pierre Boulez Saal’s 2017/18 Season in Berlin __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

  • NEW! A Q&A WITH ANDREA CARÈ AS HE RETURNS TO COVENT GARDEN AS DON JOSÉ __________________________________
  • NEW! Chelsea Opera Group to Perform Rossini’s Mosè in Egitto at Cadogan Hall __________________________________
  • NEW! A Celebration of the Work of Dai Fujikura at Wigmore Hall on 17 February __________________________________
  • NEW! Rafael de Acha Introduces Some of Cincinnati’s New Musical Entrepreneurs __________________________________
  • NEW! ENB’s 2018 Emerging Dancer will be Chosen at the London Coliseum on 11 June __________________________________
  • NEW! Akram Khan’s Giselle for ENB Can be Seen in Cinemas from 25 April __________________________________
  • NEW! BARRY DOUGLAS IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • UPDATED! SOME OF OUR REVIEWERS CHOOSE THEIR ‘BEST OF 2017’ __________________________________
  • NEW! Dénes Várjon Talks to Sebastian Smallshaw About Budapest’s Kamara.hu __________________________________
  • R.I.P. IN MEMORIAM – DMITRI HVOROSTOVSKY (1962-2017) __________________________________
  • NEW! Ann Murray’s Masterclass at the V&A Part of Opera: Passion, Power and Politics __________________________________
  • NEW! A Composer Speaks Up for the Environment: An Interview with Margaret Brouwer __________________________________
  • Archives by Week

    Archives by Month

    Search S&H