Don Carlo in Parma

Don Carlo, perhaps my favourite Verdi opera, would seem to be an ideal choice for a first visit to the famed Teatro Regio in Parma, his home town. The work needs and, as the event to open the Verdi Festival there should have had, top-class singers capable of doing it justice, as well as a production able to draw together its various themes: political and religious oppression, love, loneliness and jealousy. Sadly it had neither. Cesare Lievi’s staging had a few original touches – I particularly liked the succession of back drops (designer Maurizio Balò) which, in the last act, enclosed Carlo and Elisabetta to their inescapable fate – but otherwise failed to make the piece cohere dramatically. The audience at the Parma theatre has a reputation for the severity of its reception of singers but on this evening they were too indulgent in their judgement. They were right to hail the Posa of Vladimir Stoyanov for his fine vocal characterisation of the role, even though he lacked some warmth of tone in the upper register. In contrast they did not sufficiently credit the qualities of Serena Farnocchia, the only soloist performing at an international level. As Elisabetta, she spun out beautiful pianissimi and, when required, launched her outbursts with vigour but also clean tone and well-arched phrasing. Michele Pertusi offered a competent King Philip, but no more. Marianne Cornetti as Eboli adopted melodramatic postures and, to deliver the showpiece arias, cranked up the high notes after changing gear from her powerful chest voice. Veteran tenor José Bros might still have the voice for Carlo, but dramatically he did not come within a mile of the role, with little understanding of the vacillation between heroic bravura and humiliating weakness. Also he was not helped by his evident desire to sit down whenever this was appropriate, or sometimes inappropriate, for the situation, as when his great pal Rodrigo is shot and collapses. Daniel Oren in the pit supplied a sympathetic orchestral accompaniment which never really caught fire.