A few weeks ago, during maintenance work at Deutsche Oper am Rhein's Theater Duisburg, the floodgates opened and 80,000 litres of water from the sprinkler system reservoir deluged vital parts of the theatre, putting it out of action for the foreseeable future. Fortunately, across the road from the theatre is Mercatorhalle, home of the Duisburger Philharmoniker, a larger and acoustically superior hall, although having no facility to stage operas. Concert performances had to be scheduled, which has rescued the opera. Very likely, if given a choice for a concert version to perform, Don Carlos would not have been near the top of the list.

Ketevan Kemoklidze, Bogdan Baciu, Bogdan Taloş, Eduardo Aladrén, Olesya Golovneva, Hans-Peter König
© Andreas Endermann and Kerstin Kühne

The Duisburger Philharmoniker commanded the stage, the chorus arranged behind them, all in black, the men wearing white shirts. The monks’ opening chorus, with a great bass section, augured well, with conductor Nicholas Carter inspiring both orchestra and chorus to sparkle. Carter, principal conductor of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, was a long way from home, but his reputation had preceded him. He directed masterfully all evening.

Eduardo Aladrén, impressive with clear diction and ample volume, sang Don Carlos. Bogdan Baciu (Posa) joined him, leading to the popular duet “Dio, che nell’alma infondere”, the theme recurring whenever these two came together – Verdi eager to optimise his hit tune! There was no interaction between the singers. Here, standing side by side, Posa leant towards Carlos, finally placing a hand on his shoulder, the two almost embracing. Baciu’s mellow baritone impressed all night, conveyed much feeling as he entered into the character's mind and heart.

Act 2 began with the orchestra portraying the coolness of fountains and relaxation in the monastery gardens. Chorus ladies-in-waiting soothed the way for Eboli (the suave Sarah Ferede, in red-skirted Spanish dress, a refreshing variation from everything in black). Her lovely rich voice launched into the Song of the Veil. She inspired as she sang, the orchestra swirling around her.

Wearing stunning black and with regal bearing, Olesya Golovneva was ideal as Queen Elisabeth, carrying the cross of an unhappy marriage to the father of the son she loves. A rare onstage interaction came when Posa slipped her a note from Carlos and then showed the audience the other letter. She read it surreptitiously, her brow knotted with worry (or was it dread?). In this concert version, it was not obvious that Elisabeth had remained on stage alone to meet Carlos. What was obvious was her determination not to encourage him. When Aladrén raised his voice in angry frustration, even when he began to passionately hold her, she rejected him strongly. Such a forceful voice! When Philip II arrived and found her alone, his outrage was muted without a set to explain it. So too Elisabeth’s farewell to her non-existent lady in waiting. Although I could hear her sadness, singing to an empty space just didn’t cut it. Yet Golovneva could project a voice as cold as steel, as when standing up to the king who had questioned the contents of her jewel box, and again in voice and looks when dismissing Eboli.

The duet between bass Bogdan Talos (Philip) and Baciu (Posa) was inspiring, concluding with a more forceful than usual warning to watch out for the Grand Inquisitor. Indeed the subsequent bass duet of King and Grand Inquisitor (Hans-Peter König), along with matching deep rumblings in the orchestra, must be one of the greatest moments in all opera for basses.

While Verdi loved a rousing procession and chorus, a concert auto-da-fé becomes a pale imitation. The King and Elisabeth walked on stage from one side, Posa and Tebaldo (Maria Carla Pino Cury), then Carlos with his Flanders deputies from the other. It did produce a deluge of sound with everyone singing at once. The orchestra captured the brooding desolation weighing on Philip in his royal study, his voice echoing the same feelings, conductor Carter masterfully underscoring the reality of a King totally alone.

The final prison cell scene was hard to capture in concert. Isolating, walled-in music suggested a dank and gloomy place, but how does Posa die on stage? Baciu sang a beautiful goodbye to Carlos. Aladrén was at his best with a softer, more resonant response. They even touched heads together, as the strings again reprised their friendship theme.

Well done to Deutsche Oper am Rhein for rescuing the opera. While a concert version is far from the real thing, it produced an enjoyable experience of a good orchestra under a superb conductor and the voices of many remarkable singers.