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19 July, 2015

Don Carlos. Sydney Opera House. Tuesday 14th July 2015

Prince Don Carlos - Diego Torre
Rodrigo - José Carbó
Eboli - Milijana Nikolic
Elisabeth de Valois - Latonia Moore
King Philip II - Ferruccio Furlanetto
The Grand Inquisitor - Daniel Sumegi
Celestial voice - Julie Lea Goodwin
Conductor - Andrea Licata
What can one say about such a splendid and multifaceted performance of Verdi’s longest and blackest opera?  The voices were almost too much for this small theatre!  A lady sitting in the front stalls complained at interval that her ears hurt after the auto-da-fe scene!  With a title tenor so loud (and at times slightly ungainly) it was hard for the rest to keep a tasteful balance … but somehow it never left the rails to become the train wreck that could have resulted.  Diego Torre is an archetypical tenor, shorter and stouter than the average but with a huge and resonant voice.  This was one of the most high-tensile and exciting performances I have attended. 
The world-class bass Signore Furlanetto was true to his reputation, singing his long and tragic Act 4 monologue to perfection (below a Las Meninas inspired master).  We were also privileged to hear two excellent Australian basses in Daniel Sumegi as Grand Inquisitor and David Parkin as the crippled monk/Charles V. 
American soprano Ms Latonia Moore sang superlatively as Elisabetta whose big aria is tucked into the last act.  Tu, che le vanita conoscesti del mondo .. which was sung in full voice with clarity to boot.  Moore’s range is extraordinary with power in both high and low notes. 
Jose Carbo as Roderigo Marquis di Posa maintained his warm, velvet baritone and dramatic persona throughout this long part.  His Act I duet with the tenor was magnificent, as was his death scene.  I think he is the only fully likeable character in the opera.  Ms Nikolic started out below par and sounded muted at times.  With her high-brow fellow singers she rose to greatness on occasions yet her O don fatale was just passable (it is my favourite part of the whole opera). 
The conductor seemed to take some sections slightly faster than the singers might have liked … but clearly knew what he was doing in this dark and relentless piece. 
This old Moshinsky production has a couple of odd features but overall is very effective.  It is from an era when clunky scene changes were acceptable.  This four act version of a five act opera has been further truncated into two halves with a single intermission.  Verdi ordained these breaks for good reason … singers and musicians and audience all need a rest and it takes time to rebuild the stage.  In Act IV the king sings of the candles burning down yet there were no candles on stage.  Eboli traditionally glimpses Carlo's death warrant on the king’s table, yet there is only a pile of books so Eboli has to respond as if she had just learned of the plans and sings the last exciting notes of the act.  No matter … most of the details were included - and more - in this production. 
The audience was enthusiastic yet there were hundreds of empty seats for this opening night.  ‘Natural selection’ saw many of Sydney’s opera aficionados attending, drawn by the rarely performed opera and/or the big names performing it.  Many previous subscribers deserted the company so opening nights are no longer the sold-out sessions they were.  The management has been derogatory about subscribers, pushing to serve some other audience which seems not to exist.  Supposed sales to cruise passengers is mythology since most liners arrive at dawn and leave at dusk, leaving no time for evening opera.  It is a small miracle that we still have an ‘opera’ company at all in Sydney. 
Notes by Andrew Byrne ..