Further information here.
Nicholas Hytner´s production of Don Carlo is the first staged opera production at the absolutely magnificent new Oslo Opera house. The production comes from Covent Garden, where it earlier this year received extraordinarily mixed reviews ranging from disastrous to brilliant, and is scheduled at the Metropolitan Opera in upcoming seasons. Nicholas Hytner is an esteemed theatre director (as well as director of the National Theatre, London) and to be honest, I had expected much more from him.
Nicholas Hytner has in fact created a very conventional Don Carlo, which most of all looks like 70´s style kitsch with several of the tableaus distinctly reminiscent of plastic replicas of religious artifacts. Or just plastic replicas of anything. It´s occasionally semi-aesthetic kitsch, with singers in mostly unflattering period-style costumes, but nevertheless kitsch. It doesn´t look like Hytner directed the Oslo production himself, but I doubt that Elaine Kidd did not follow his instructions closely. The lack of insights into the motives and interactions of the characters surprised me, coming from a director who is apparently "opposed to stereotypes". The only truly outstanding dramatic performance was that of René Pape, which I somehow doubt may be attributed to the stage director. Production photographs and reviews from the London performances here.
First of all, German bass René Pape delivered the most shattering performance of Filippo I have ever seen, including many of his own previous shows. A broken man, from start to finish, laying his soul completely open, he was simply heartbreaking. Completely different from his usual appearances and if I hadn´t seen him approach something like this in last years Boris Godunov, I frankly wouldn´t have thought him capable of it dramatically. Somehow I doubt that Nicholas Hytner/Elaine Kidd is responsible for this, as none of the other singers even approached that level of acting. If he is going to perform like this as Boris in Dresden in December (which I for several reasons suspect he will) it will be worth traveling a long way to see. Vocally, he was as perfect as ever, not even worth mentioning. That said, I strongly disagree with Hytner on this characterization of Filippo, which seems far too monodimensional and insightless.
Only in one scene were the sets kitsch-free, luckily it was in the most important one - Act 4 scene 1 with Filippo and the Grand Inquisitor. The Grand Inquisitor seems always cast with basses on their way up or down. I am not sure which category Ketil Hugaas belongs to, but the part needs a major voice in it´s prime to fully carry it off.
I would be surprised if Anja Harteros doesn´t become 1st choice worldwide as Elisabetta. This performance was her role debut, and already at this early point I cannot name a better interpreter of the part today. Her voice is certainly big enough, she is unstrained and on pitch. Furthermore, she looks the part. Her singing is very straight forward, with a minimum of portamento, stylishly not unlike Karita Mattila´s previous interpretation. I have only one but..., which is that for some strange reason I find Anja Harteros somewhat unengaging. Not only as Elisabetta, but as a performer in general. Those not sharing this general reservation, will most probably find her perfect.
Peter Mattei is a great and very noble Posa with a soft-grained clear and beautiful voice. However, the role needs a bit more ring to it, particulary in the confrontation with Filippo, where he furthermore looked too much an adolescent schoolboy next to René Pape, not the oldest Filippo on the circuit either. An aspect of the part Thomas Hampson mastered superbly earlier this year in Vienna. That said, Peter Mattei approaches being top choice for this part as well.
Hytner clearly built this production around Don Carlo, with him appearing in front of the sets between most of the scene changes. A fine approach, especially if you have a singer with the dramatic and vocal strenghts of a Plácido Domingo in his prime at your disposal. Read: To make this concept work you need a stronger presence than Alfred Kim, who is simply too easily forgotten despite fine singing. Ingebjørg Kosmo got away with Eboli´s fiendishly difficult part impressively well and managed to hold her own among these international top-singers.
Marco Guidarini and the orchestra also performed at a higher level, than I had expected. It´s hardly their fault that I simply find the 5-act Don Carlo too long..
Compared with the London cast (broadcast only), I´d say this Oslo cast wins 3-2. An easy 3-2, perhaps even a 4-1.
Peter Gelb over at the Metropolitan Opera must now have something to think about: To bring this kitsch to Met audiences in replacement of their much-loved, traditional Don Carlo production (notwithstanding I personally find it undead)....well, good luck. I will believe this production to replace the old one at the Met when I see it.
The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):
René Pape: 5
Anja Harteros: 4-5
Peter Mattei: 4
Alfred Kim: 3
Ingebjørg Kosmo: 3
Nicholas Hytner´s staging: 2-3
Marco Guidarini: 4
Overall impression: 4