‘Don Carlos’ at Opera Australia

 [First published on The Plus Ones]

Photo courtesy Jeff Busby

Like any good performance, an opera will transport you to another place. The scene, setting, costumes and music should hold and absorb you in a fantasy. Opera Australia’s production of ‘Don Carlos’ does just that.

Many regard ‘Don Carlos’ to be Verdi’s greatest opera. Essentially it’s a love story between man, woman, country, countryman, and God. Set in the sixteenth century, the eponymous Don Carlos, Crown Prince of Spain, is desperately in love with France’s Elisabeth of Valois, the daughter of Henry II. But Carlos quickly finds out his father, King Philip II, has married Elisabeth himself. Love, jealousy, anger, angst and conflict ensue. Every main character wants to kill someone at some stage. Welcome to opera.

Photo courtesy Jeff Busby

Director Elijah Moshinsky has faithfully delivered on the magnificence of Verdi’s vision. With elaborate French and Spanish period costumes, and opulent and moody sets that seem to reconstruct between scenes, the grandeur of this production is tactile.

Verdi is no stranger to epic finales – think ‘Nabucco’ Act I or ‘Aida’ Act II – and the Act II finale of ‘Don Carlos’ is no different. The stage spills with more than fifty performers, the auditorium pulsing with the instrument of their unified voice, lifting you on its breath. And the performers in this production sing with tremendous force – forget solar and wind power, they are the future of sustainable energy.

Photo courtesy Jeff Busby

At times the libretto lingers on repetition, but it all seems to be part of the crescendo. The story builds steam to the Act II finale, sending you to the interval on an adrenaline rush, and then eases you back into the fantasy with a moving aria, Elle ne m’aime pas (‘She doesn’t love me’).

Verdi’s score has majestic proportions and Orchestra Victoria delivers on the promise. The music is like a living, breathing thing; an invisible current that whips into the audience and absorbs you. You drown in it and it’s marvellous. See it before it’s too late.

‘Don Carlos’ runs from 14 July–15 August 2015 at the Sydney Opera House. To find out more and book tickets, visit the Opera Australia website. The venue is wheelchair accessible.