Directed by Elijah Moshinsky
Joan Sutherland Theatre
The Opera House, Bennelong Point
Season (see website for performance dates) 14 July – 15 August
Opera Australia’s production of Don Carlos, conducted by Andrea Licata and directed by Elijah Moshinsky, deals with dark themes in a grisly period of history whereby the church was enabled to reign with undue control. What prevails is an agonising predicament fraught with unrequited love, exile and murder. Think it sounds a little melodramatic? Embrace it – it is the opera after all.
The opera follows Don Carlos, played by Diego Torre, son of Phillip II King of Spain, played by the renowned Ferruccio Furlanetto. Don Carlos was betrothed to Elisabeth de Valois, played by Latonia Moore, however she is married to King Phillip in order to end a war between Spain and France. As you can imagine, this circumstance introduces an unbridled tension in the family dynamic. To make matters worse, Princess Eboli, played by Milijana Nikolic, mistakes Don Carlos’ love for Elisabeth as infatuation for herself, culminating in jealousy when she is made aware of the truth. All of this drama is set amongst the unrivalled power of the church, thus featuring a public parade and burning of condemned heretics.
Opera Australia’s production touches upon the darker elements of the opera to make for engaging viewing, alongside some rather emotional performances. To hold audience focus in this work is impressive considering its length (almost 4 hours including intermission) and yet it manages to do so. There are some notable performances in the show, beginning with the remarkable Furlanetto as Phillip II. With a career spanning performances across the globe, it is not surprising that Furlanetto presents an engrossing performance of great depth, expressed with his exquisite voice. He effectively communicates the conflicted emotions rife in Phillip II’s position as he is ravaged by the devastation of not meriting his wife’s love, desires vengeance against his son for gaining his wife’s love, and yet conflicted by his familial connection and not wanting to treat his son this way.
Nikolic, as Eboli, has a strong voice and contributes splendidly to multiple duets and trios. She is convincing in her portrayal of unrequited love, however plot line development and her relationship with Don Carlos on stage does not serve to convince the audience of the authenticity of her love. Deep emotions are not conveyed in Torre’s performance as Don Carlos, giving a largely one-dimensional performance. Whilst able to hit some big notes, Torre lacks variation in his vocal dynamics, which could aid his expression of greater emotion. Moore’s performance as the Queen is particularly evocative, incorporating great skill in her overarching performance technique. This is found not only in her voice work but also in her extensive development of character, taking the audience on a journey. The role of the Grand Inquisitor is portrayed by Daniel Sumegi, who sings with great passion and gives a fascinating insight into corrupt machinations in the Roman Catholic Church, in accordance with Verdi's perspective. The divine right to rule had to be maintained and the Bible manipulated to justify their actions, such as killing Don Carlos.
Both set and costume design is by Paul Brown, resulting in a harmonious overall design vision. The use of marble walls and statues in the monastery at the commencement of the opera set the moody tone for the piece. However some of the set design and dressing in scenes was lacklustre. This continued for costume design – while some of the dresses and male outfits were stunning and appeared to be plucked from history, others felt a little neglected.
To stage an opera in our contemporary context is a hefty undertaking, under pressures of the modern impatient audience, budget cuts, and the perceived inaccessibility of art in foreign languages. To overcome these challenges is one thing, for the audience to witness moments of magic in Don Carlos is quite another.