I have the good fortune, after some fast fingerwork when the booking opened, to be seeing Don Carlo twice at the ROH. My first encounter was the opening on 4 May, to a rapturous reception which was justly deserved for some truly remarkable singing. This was opera at its most formidable: a well-constructed opera of fascinating complexity but clearly-told story and engagingly rich music; a production which heightens, mostly, but doesn’t intrude; conducting of dramatic propulsion, more so later in the performance; orchestral playing of rich, sonorous quality; and singing of the highest order.
Given I’ll be seeing it again, I’ll come back to a fuller set of thoughts then – in part because audience (bad) behaviour was a constant irritant throughout this performance, so I would like a second go to reflect. I do think there was the odd bit of first night tentativeness – but saying that seems so quibblesome weighed against an avalanche of musical and dramatic quality! The quantifiable difference when I see it the second time will be Elisabetta, with Lianna Haroutounian taking over from Anja Harteros.
There was (is!) much grumbling in the Twittersphere over the cancellation of two performances by Ms Harteros, who has much-publicised caring responsibilities for her ill husband. The decisions she has to make must be very difficult indeed, and frustrating as it is to have commitments broken, that pales into insignificance. Some speculate as to why managements persevere. After this performance, it is plain to see and hear why they do. I make no apology for what follows, which can only be described as ‘a gush’!
At the end of the 2013/14 season, I reach 20 years of attending the Royal Opera House. I struggle to identify a comparable combination of voice and drama to that deployed by Harteros. The superlatives are littered through the Twitter timelines (browse the site for #ROHDonCarlo or Harteros to see). It is a voice of simply breathtaking security across the range – within which she then has the freedom to colour, shape and flex the sound with tremendous sensitivity. When it soars out in the upper register, the strength and clarity is all the more remarkable for her not having had to call on it previously. It’s a voice of such presence, that excesses of volume simply aren’t necessary, and just become all the more thrillingly surprising when called upon, but no more thrilling than her soft, pensive pianissimos (Act V here springs to mind). She acts with great distinction, a sense of the straightforwardly ‘honest’ about her, with small gestures registering very clearly, and all founded on a beautifully poised disposition. Her transition from crushed victim of her husband’s injustice, to cold, imperious dismisser of Eboli in Act IV was masterful, and an utterly convincing, smoothly transitioned piece of acting in response to the text. Her intimately impassioned Tu che le vanità seemed to make time stand still, a feat repeated moments later with Kaufmann in their final duet. Magical stuff.
So she won’t be there when I next go, but I am looking forward to Ms Haroutounian, who makes her debut in circumstances that must need the most remarkable confidence and self-determination, so all good wishes to her. The rest of the cast were astonishing, and I look forward to seeing them again.