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Don Carlo review at Grange Park Opera – ‘Verdi’s sombre masterpiece remains elusive’

Leonardo Capalbo in Don Carlo at Grange Park Opera. Photo: Robert Workman

Dating from 2016, this production of Don Carlo was first presented in Grange Park Opera’s former home in Hampshire. While never radical, it mixes periods, with the women dressed for the 16th century and the men mainly for the 19th and has a discreetly modernist concrete and glass setting.

The four-act version of the opera, arguably Verdi’s greatest, is coherently handled and the incendiary climax to the auto-da-fé is both spectacular and sinister. But, the full emotional weight of this sombre personal and political drama is not brought to bear.

The singers, who move around the stage a great deal, rarely strike sparks off one another. In a 700-seat theatre that is sympathetic to the voices, they could more often afford to favour nuance over decibels.

Though passionate and richly coloured in the title role, Leonardo Capalbo lacks neurosis and frustration. As his dutiful stepmother, Marina Costa-Jackson too often seems to be aspiring to Tosca, but her thrusting chest notes stand out. As Eboli, Ruxandra Donose’s higher phrases are excitingly expansive and she makes an elegant, sensuous mistress to the irascible Filippo (Clive Bayley). He sings with firm power but does not emerge as a conflicted, tragic figure.

The scale, timbre and energy of Brett Polegato’s baritone are near-ideal for Posa, so it is puzzling that he tends to pressure his lines. By contrast, David Shipley shows exemplary vocal control as the Monk/Carlo V and Branislav Jatic makes the Grande Inquisitore surprisingly unimposing.

Having tended to rush things before the dinner interval, the conductor Gianluca Marciano, a seasoned Verdian, hits his stride when he reaches Act III, the very heart of the opera.

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Despite some strong moments, the full scope of Verdi’s sombre masterpiece remains elusive