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2005, Madrid, Don Carlos, review of Gwyneth Davies

DON CARLOS  – Teatro Real, Madrid 15 June 2005

Gwyneth Davies

I was lucky to be able to attend this performance of Verdi’s opera Don Carlos in Madrid – it is one of my favourite operas and I had high hopes of a stunning evening. The performance got off to a poignant start when Jesús López Cobos, announced the recent death of Carlo Maria Giulini, conductor of the Domingo/Caballé/Milnes Don Carlos set, considered by many to be the definitive recording of this opera.

Sadly this production, directed by Hugo de Ana, was disappointingly old-fashioned and static, and failed at this performance at least, to make an impact. The set consisted of a number of extremely tall moveable pillars, used to represent both monastery and palace interiors and, curiously, the garden. Combined with rich costumes authentic to the period, this was clearly intended to provide a realistic portrait of the Spanish court of the time. Unfortunately, the rudimentary acting skills of many of the cast did not reflect this quest for realism and the use of dark gauzes for a number of scenes distanced the singers from the audience and obscured what little drama was taking place on the stage.

2005PosaMadridcurtaincallSimon Keenlyside gave a beautifully sung account of Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa and, as always, acted with powerful commitment. This was his fourth performance in this production, but he did still seem ill at ease at times, particularly with the costume. He was dressed in the Spanish court dress of the day, entirely in black, with just a high white ruff, a costume which was curiously diminishing and made him look small and vulnerable next to the other characters – a more suitable costume for Hamlet than Posa, the man of action. Despite his best efforts, only a limited response to his acting skills was forthcoming from his fellow cast members and at times he did seem to be in a different production to everyone else. Needless to say, Posa’s death scene was the most moving moment of the evening and Mr Keenlyside’s performance elicited long and loud applause from the audience at the curtain call.

The remaining singers were of varied abilities – the Philip II of Giacomo Prestia was well sung and convincing – but none of the others really seemed to inhabit their characters and produced uneven singing that failed to thrill.

I am glad that I saw this, Simon Keenlyside’s first attempt at the role on the opera stage, and look forward to hearing him sing Posa again in the future in a production more worthy of his talents.

Gwyneth Davies       06 July 2005

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