Monday, 28 September 2009
A good weekend and a great evening.
I hate to seem as if I’m moaning, but it is tough sometimes having to work for my living!
I have just had a lovely long weekend off, and I suppose that is what has precipitated this sensation of being ill-done-by. Even the fact that today it has turned cloudy and cool doesn’t completely assuage my regret that I am no longer sitting in the sun, drinking cold drinks and eating cashews, on a seat overlooking my mother’s large, ramshackle, richly-flowering garden and the fields and woods beyond.
“Don Carlos” was fantastic: an excellent production, honourable, illuminating and clear, with nothing imposed and no specious directorial tricks cluttering it up; good, striking designs that were visually strong and that used the stage pictures to help tell the story and intensify the atmosphere, an orchestra at the top of their game; and a top-notch cast. It is hard to know who to single out among the singers; hard, indeed, to know where to start in praise of the performance as a whole. It’s an opera I have loved ever since I first heard it; for the wonderful music and for the fact the tragedy is driven by serious issues and not just by a culture that is sentimental about doomed love affairs. To my father’s evident bewilderment, it was the first dvd I bought when he gave me a dvd player – the Chatelet production with the little-and-large act of Alagna and Hampson as Carlo and Posa. That’s a good production, too, but this had the added, immeasurable, benefit of being live. There’s nothing quite like live performance for the additional thrill factor.
Jonas Kaufmann was a wonderful Carlos. His voice is a thing of beauty, manly, bronze-coloured and baritonal, strong yet with the delicacy to move into an exquisite mezza voce; I would even venture to say I was reminded of recordings of Jussi Bjorling, and for me, you can’t say better than that. Factor in on top of this the fact that he looks the part and he can act, and you have one very happy Dent. This Don Carlos was not merely a sad and misunderstood boy, but clearly unbalanced from the start; painfully shy, then sliding rapidly into real neurosis and moments of wild hysteria. The character’s tragic lack of self-control was all the more intense when compared with the lucid and almost calculating intelligence of Simon Keenlyside’s marvellous Posa; (Favourite Baritone done good - that's Favourite Baritone, above, by the way; picture reproduced, with grateful thanks, from www.simonkeenlyside.info).
Marina Poplavskaya was a steely, exciting Elisabetta, John Tomlinson a scary Grand Inquisitor, and Ferruccio Furlanetto a tremendous, deeply complex King Philip; a figure almost as tragic as his son, full of fire, anguish and iron, bitterly lonely, cruel and troubled by his cruelty… He has such a rich, warm voice, yet conveyed a man capable of implacable coldness, eternally harsh towards the son whose own flailing character he cannot cope with; then consumed with grief as, alone, his voice blanched and empty, he struggles to come to terms with his loveless marriage and broken family life. The confrontation with Posa was almost unbearably intense; two great singer-actors, both at the peak of their powers, performing with heartfelt conviction and stunning musicality, as these two intelligent men face up to one another, pushing and pulling at the tensions and the power-play between them. The King shifts from anger to sudden respect as suddenly he sees the thing he has been longing for, an honest and honourable man who will tell him the truth, but he is agonisingly aware that the opening out of possibilities this offers him is an illusion; his heir is the volatile and disturbed Carlos, not this decent, brave, rational man who will take such staggering risks for what he believes in. In the moment when Posa challenges Philip outright, crying out, in response to the King’s claim to bring peace, that this will be only “la pace del sepolcro!” – and the whole orchestra explodes with a huge blast of fury to back him – this production puts him upstage, suddenly completely dominant and literally rounding upon the king, yet with arms outstretched in an almost Christ-like gesture; a veritable embodiment of moral force before which Philip visibly falls back…
It was a hell of an evening.
The rest of the weekend was taken up with a trip to a food festival (much sampling, of goodies wildly assorted, and subsequent mild indigestion), a trip to Challock church to see the murals, a couple of nice pub lunches, some walks and a fair amount of sitting in the sun.
I’ll write more about the food festival and the murals another time.