Don Carlo, Berlin State Opera, April 11, 2008. Production: Himmelmann. Conductor: Salemkour. Cast: René Pape (Filippo II), Andrew Richards (Carlo), Norma Fantini (Elisabetta), Alfredo Daza (Rodrigo), Ildikó Komlosi (Eboli), Kurt Rydl (Inquisitor). More details here.
I believe I have mentioned before, that René Pape is probably the greatest exponent of King Filippo to have ever existed. Although my knowledge of historical singers is far less than complete, I simply cannot imagine anyone beating his performance in this part. And among the current interpreters of the role, I believe very few will disagree with me (one of those who does, unfortunately, is the director of the upcoming Don Carlos production at the London Royal Opera).
Just the "Ella giammai m´amo" is worth the entire evening. If I lived in Berlin, I may well have tried to turn up after the intermission for all the performances (which is just before the Ella giammai m´amo) and see if I could get in for free. I could write an entire book (well at least a short one) on the brilliance of René Pape in this part, but after giving it some thought, I guess I will save my unsuspecting (or maybe not so unsuspecting after all....) readers a lengthy ramble, trusting the point has gone through...
The problem with yesterday´s Don Carlos performance was that René Pape outclassed the other singers to an almost embarrassing degree. Only Ildikó Komlosi showed some occasional sparkle as Eboli. So it was no surprise, that the very selective Berlin audience only applauded these two singers after their solo arias. But strange to see a Don Carlos performance where neither Posa or Elisabetta were applauded after their areas. In my book, Kurt Rydl is cult. His voice may not be pleasant, but his highly individual singing style with deep inhalations of breath is unique, he is never boring, and he may well make an effective Grand Inquisitor next to anyone but René Pape. The rest, I will spare mentioning, including the conductor.
As opposed to my visit last year, no-one left their seats mid-performance and no-one protested (not loudly at least) against Himmelmann´s staging, which may be described as advanced Regie theater. Although the Spanish couple next to me did leave their seats after the intermission, which was a major relief since they were talking loudly throughout the first two acts when not chewing loudly on what seemed to be endless pieces of chewinggum. And quite a few young people were present in the audience as well and it was my impression (based on conversations in the drinks queue and the subway after the performance) that they received the staging very well.
As did I. In my opinion, it is one of the most convincing stagings of Don Carlos, I´ve seen: Based on a thorough analysis of the text, Himmelmann places Filippo in the center of the production, with focus on the contrast between his troubled family life and the public facade, he has to keep up. The question is whether this concept will work without René Pape, which will be revealed soon anyway, as Peter Rose takes over the part for the rest of the performance run.
For most people, the most shocking element were the nude bodies (pictured below) in the auto-da-fé scene. I won´t go into further detail here as I have described the production in detail in my review from last season.