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Don Carlo review at St John’s Church, London – ‘a sense of grandeur’

Andrew Mayor and Alberto Sousa in Don Carlo at St John's Fulham. Photo: Robert Workman

With Wagner’s Ring among its past projects, Fulham Opera now turns to Don Carlo, maybe Verdi’s grandest – and greatest – opera.

The company’s enterprising artistic director, Ben Woodward, has opted for the five-act edition, and Lewis Reynolds’ gripping production hosts two alternating casts.

The colour scheme is starkly monochrome. Flags and uniforms evoke Fascist regimes, and chiaroscuro lighting is sometimes supplied by hand-held torches and candles.  The auto-da-fé scene succeeds in evoking spectacle and terror while highlighting interpersonal dynamics often lost in larger stagings.

In the title role, singing with both sensitivity and power, Alberto Sousa is the neurotic Hispanic prince to the life. Phjllippa Boyle, dignified yet passionate as his stepmother, Elisabetta, shapes her demanding Act V aria with amplitude and artistry. Formidable, but thin-skinned, Keel Watson makes her husband Filippo alarmingly believable, and his bass sounds splendid at full throttle. Andrew Mayor, maybe too diffident for a shrewd political visionary, rises impressively to Rodrigo’s famous death scene.

The role of Princess Eboli needs a charismatic, sensuous mezzo-soprano who can generate excitement across a large vocal range, an apt description of Siv Iren Misund.

Gerard Delrez, lowering behind dark glasses, brooks no opposition as a voluminous Grand Inquisitor. Ian Wilson-Pope brings warmth to his pronouncements as the Friar who turns out be Carlo V, Hannah Macaulay sparkles as Tebaldo and the strong-voiced John Wood characterises Lerma vividly as an officious cleric.

A small orchestra and chorus cannot do full justice to the sepia-and-gold glories of the score, but the performance has a sense of both poetry and grandeur as the drama unfolds in all its cruelty and compassion.

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Ambitious, but astutely conceived, this is a gripping and moving staging of Verdi’s dark epic