Friday, 7 June 2019

Verdi's Don Carlo returns to Grange Park Opera in Jo Davies & Leslie Travers stylish & imaginative production

Verdi: Don Carlo - Leonardo Capalbo, Brett Polegato - Grange Park Opera 2019 (Photo Robert Workman)
Verdi: Don Carlo Act 1 - Leonardo Capalbo, Brett Polegato - Grange Park Opera 2019 (Photo Robert Workman)
Verdi Don Carlo; Leonardo Capalbo, Brett Polegato, Marina Costa-Jackson, Ruxandra Donose, Clive Bayley, dir: Jo Davies, ENO Orchestra, cond: Gianluca Marciano; Grange Park Opera
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 6 June 2019 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
A miracle of compression, one of the most satisfying productions of Verdi's grand opera around

Grange Park Opera opened its 2019 season with a revival of Jo Davies fine production of Verdi's Don Carlo, one of the last (and finest) productions in the company's old home in Hampshire. [see my review]. The production featured two original cast members returning to their roles, Clive Bayley's Filippo and Ruxandra Donose's Eboli, with Leonardo Capalbo as Don Carlo, Marina Costa-Jackson as Elisabetta, Brett Polegato as Rodrigo, Branislav Jatic as the Grand Inquisitor, David Shipley as the Monk / Charles V and Jessica Leary as Tebaldo. Gianluca Marciano conducted the orchestra of English National Opera.

Central to the production are Leslie Travers stylish and imaginative sets which provide a series of striking backdrops for the intimate scenes yet facilitate creating a remarkable amount of grandeur on a relatively small stage. The production remains one of the most satisfying recent incarnations of Verdi's grand opera that we have seen and the only regrets are that length prevents the five-act version from being performed, and that it is not done in the original French (Leonardo Capalbo will be singing the title role in French with Opera Vlaanderen in the Autumn).

Verdi: Don Carlo - Clive Bayley, Leonardo Capalbo - Grange Park Opera 2019 (Photo Robert Workman)
Verdi: Don Carlo Act 2 'Auto de fe scene' - Clive Bayley, Leonardo Capalbo
Grange Park Opera 2019 (Photo Robert Workman)
Without the Fontainebleau Act, we never see Don Carlo and Elisabetta in their moment of untroubled bliss and the four act version of the opera has inevitably to start in media res.
Leonardo Capalbo ran on, vividly emoting and we were in no doubt as to this Don Carlo's youth, humanity and sheer personal intensity. It seemed to take Capalbo some time to get the measure of the auditorium, and his singing at times came over as over emphatic. But there was no doubting his commitment and the vibrancy of his performance, as he obsessed over Elisabetta. Capalbo brought a nice intensity to his quiet singing, particularly in the tense Act Two scene with Elisabetta, and by Act Three he was a changed man. Central to Capalbo's performance was the journey that Don Carlo goes on, this strutting peacock of a man learns control and balance, so that his final scene with Elisabetta was moving indeed for the understated nature of their pair's emotions, their control and maturity. This was, I believe, Capalbo's role debut and his interpretation will certainly grow but this was a striking assumption.

Marina Costa-Jackson was a name that was new to me. Born in the USA and raised in Italy, she is a relatively recent (2016) graduate from the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia. Her Elisabetta displayed great physical control, she was a woman who knew what was expected of her as a king's daughter and the wife of a king, which meant that the moments when she lost control, such as the scene with Don Carlo in Act Two and the thrilling moment with Clive Bayley's Philippo in Act Three when these two strong personalities square up to here, told indeed. Costa-Jackson's voice has a significant vibrato, which warmed the sound considerably but thankfully there was still a strong core to provide the sort of line that this role needs. Her final aria was indeed stupendous, made all the more moving for being restrained.

Verdi: Don Carlo - Ruxandra Donose, Marina Costa-Jackson, Brett Polegato - Grange Park Opera 2019 (Photo Robert Workman)
Verdi: Don Carlo Act 1 - Ruxandra Donose, Marina Costa-Jackson, Brett Polegato
Grange Park Opera 2019 (Photo Robert Workman)
Clive Bayley reprised his strikingly controlled and controlling Filippo, making him not so much a martinet as a man expecting the highest standards in certain types of behaviour, and unable to understand others' failure. Central to Bayley's performance was the moment, at the opening of Act Three, when we see the private man rather than the public one and come to appreciate the depth of his lack of understanding of his fellow men. When Filippo laments that Elisabetta never loved him, the moment can be in danger of seeming a little risible, but never here Bayley really wrenched our guts.

Whilst her voice is not, strictly, Italianate Ruxandra Donose is one of the most fully-rounded performances of Eboli around. This Eboli was intimately woven into the drama of the whole opera, and you could see her delight in savouring intimate and forbidden knowledge. Donose's upper register is still beautifully flexible, thus making the Veil Song a delight, whilst still giving us a nice evenness throughout the range. She brought a real sense of drama to the whole role, so that the Act Three trio with Capalbo's Don Carlo and Brett Polegato's Rodrigo was thrillingly tense indeed.

Verdi: Don Carlo - Clive Bayley, Branislav Jatic - Grange Park Opera 2019 (Photo Robert Workman)
Verdi: Don Carlo Act 3 - Clive Bayley, Branislav Jatic - Grange Park Opera 2019 (Photo Robert Workman)
Brett Polegato's Rodrigo was very much the old soldier. His performance robust and vigorous, and in their Act One duet he and Capalbo seemed to almost be vying with each other for who could phrase the most robustly. Occasionally I missed a more suave approach to the music, but there is no doubting the vehemence and power of his Act One outburst to Filippo about the Low Countries. His relationship with Capalbo's Don Carlo was perhaps one of the least homo-erotic that I have seen in recent years, but his final death scene was moving indeed.

Serbian bass Branislav Jatic sang the Grand Inquisitor. Visuall, de created a vividly etched character, yet did not always manage to match his voice to the image, but the scene between him and Philippo remained one of the central points of the opera. Jessica Leary made a charming Tebaldo, bringing out the character's youth. David Shipley was aptly firm voiced and other-worldly as the Monk / Charles V. The smaller roles were all well taken, with Rosanna Harris as the heavenly voice, Lawrence Thackeray as the Count of Lerma and Roberto Abate as the Herald.

Jo Davies' production really facilitates the intimacy of the smaller scenes in this opera, and one of the virtues of the finely balance casting was that we had a series of very human dramas playing in front of us, all depicted in vivid detail. Yet the big moments, didn't lack grandeur and the stage rarely seemed over-crowded, with the multi-level set for the Auto-Da Fe scene facilitating a miraculous amount of compression.

Key to this was the hard-working chorus, splitting itself into a variety of group, yet always singing with focused virtuosity.

Verdi: Don Carlo - Grange Park Opera 2019 (Photo Robert Workman)
Verdi: Don Carlo Act 2 'Auto de fe scene' - Grange Park Opera 2019 (Photo Robert Workman)
In the pit, Gianluca Marciano prized the impetus and impulse of this final version of the opera, and he and the orchestra kept the drama moving without ever making us feel rushed. The orchestra was on top form, thrilling in the big moments yet able to scale things back and the performance never threatened to overbalance what is essentially an intimate account of Verdi's grandest opera.

There is a case to be made for country house opera being a bit more imaginative in the way it distributes music and intervals, and I certainly wish that a bit of creative thinking could be used to present Verdi's Don Carlos in its five-act version. But until then, this production is one of the most satisfying accounts of Verdi's grand opera around, and here with finely balanced cast.

This review also appears on OperaToday.
Conductor: Gianluca Marciano
Director: Jo Davies
Set Designer: Leslie Travers
Costume Designer: Gabrielle Dalton
Movement Director: Lynne Hockney
Lighting Design: Anna Watson
Filippo: Clive Bayley
Don Carlo: Leonardo Capalbo
Rodrigo: Brett Polegato
Grand Inquisitor: Branislav Jatic
Elisabetta: Marina Costa-Jackson
Eboli: Ruxandra Donose
Monk / Charles V: David Shipley
Tebaldo: Jessica Leary
Heavenly Voice: Rosanna Harris
Count of Lerma: Lawrence Thackeray
Herald: Roberto Abate
Flemish Deputies: Przemyslaw Baranek, Nicolas Dwyer, Colin Murray, John Ieuan Jones, James Quilligan, Robert Winslade Anderson
Children: Alex Gill, Effie Wise
English National Opera orchestra (leader Gonzalo Acosta)

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