A threatening darkness hangs over Jo Davies’ production of Don Carlo for Grange Park Opera. In the four-act version, as adopted here, we are plunged into the candlelit San Yuste monastery where Carlos V is laid to rest. Even outside, in the following scene, the sunlight is all but obscured by foliage. In Act III, moonlight faintly creeps into King Philip’s study, but the main focus is the raging fireplace; like the pyre on which he burns heretics – women and children included – the theme underpinning Philip’s regime is heat, not light.
Clive Bayley is compelling as King Philip – robust in voice but also physically insidious and domineering. He despatches terrifying pronouncements with unwavering coolness and has no hesitation in killing his son Carlos – whose betrothed, Elisabeth, he has himself married. Philip’s stand-off with the Grand Inquisitor (admirably sung and acted by Alastair Miles) is brimming with tension.
If Virginia Tola’s Elizabeth is underwhelming, despite some heavenly high pianissimos, Ruxandra Dunose’s Princess Eboli is vividly characterised: she conveys a parade of shifting emotions and behaviours, from her coquettish first meeting with Posa, to bitter vengeance when she is passed over by Carlos, to utter remorse after having betrayed Elisabeth.
As Carlos, Stefano Secco lacks for nothing in terms of heroism and stamina, displaying a brilliant, powerful instrument, but David Stout as Rodrigo is the real hero of the piece, giving up his life in order that Carlos might liberate Flanders. He lends a much-needed streak of charisma to the mix.