When I saw this Don Carlo in Oslo I called it a kitsch production and I gave Hytner a 2-3 on a 5-point scale. After having now seen the DVD of the same production, though taped at the London Royal Opera, I´d like to revise that statement slightly: Yes, there are plenty elements of plastic pastiche in this staging, but the close-up video images make the production come alive as it did not in the theatre. Especially the auto-da-fe is transporting.
It is clear that Hytner is a theatre man, the instruction of the singers is superb (he was not present for the preparations of the Oslo staging) and the production is stuffed with drama of the theater-sort-interpersonal kind: No one is entirely good, nor are they entirely evil. As I have described earlier, the main focus of the staging is Don Carlo.
Marina Poplavskaya is a fantastic stage personality, who simply has to be seen. Voally, however, she is severely over-challenged. Despite a wonderful colour to her middle voice, hers is a rather small lyric soprano and she simply cannot maintain the vocal lines or project especially the high notes. When her great moment finally comes in the beginning of Act 5 with "tu che la vanita", she is simply exhausted. Nevertheless, she is far from boring, her entire person exuding drama. Poplavskaya replaced the originally scheduled Angela Gheorghiu, who apparently didn´t find the role suitable for her voice.
Equally so, but to a lesser degree for Rolando Villazon´s hyperactive neuroticism, which seem to suit Don Carlo well, though he more than occasionally resorts to yelling. It would have helped both of them (not to mention) if the, in my opinion, redundant Act 1 (Fontainebleau) had been cut.
Ferruccio Furlanetto is outstanding, primarily due to his dramatical abilities. The change betwee the menacing Filippo seen in public and the vulnerable private Filippo seen in the bedroom scene is nothing short of superb. Admittedly, he doesnt actually sing all the notes, but creates a character worthy of a Hollywood actor.
Simon Keenlyside is immensely popular among the audiences her and makes a both dashing and vocally solid Posa. Sonia Ganassi is a quite likable, vocally firm Eboli, though in the house I imagine her voice could be a bit too small.
Finally, but not to be forgotten, Antonio Pappano follows up with a transporting performance.
In Oslo, I saw René Pape, Anja Harteros and Peter Mattei as the lead trio and also Jonas Kaufmann has sung Don Carlo in this production. Nevertheless, especially from an acting point of view, the besetzung choices for this DVD are far from bad, though personally I must admit to have preferred at least three the last-mentioned four, with the choice between the superb vocalism of Anja Harteros and the absorbing commitment of Marina Poplavskaya is not easily made.
Vocally, this DVD is perhaps below the ideal, but dramatically it works.
The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):
Rolando Villazon: 3-4
Marina Poplavskaya: 3-4
Sonia Ganassi: 3-4
Simon Keenlyside: 4
Ferruccio Furlanetto: 5
Nicolas Hytner: 4-5
Antonio Pappano: 5
Overall impression: 5