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How ambitious can a small opera company get? For the past 18 years Grange Park Opera has been setting the bar ever higher. Now, for the company’s final year at The Grange in Hampshire, it is tackling Verdi’s Don Carlo, one of Italian opera’s loftiest challenges. Even big companies think twice.
The upshot is another sturdy Grange Park success. Plucky David has slain another operatic Goliath, though it should be noted that the company is performing Verdi’s own shorter, four-act version of the opera and approaches the staging in a spirit of practical good sense rather than grandiose excess.
Jo Davies’s production is on a modest scale. A bland unit set affords only the minimum of contrasts and unhelpfully restricts the size of the stage. Until a questionable, shock-horror ending, though, Davies stays true to Verdi’s drama, helpfully clarifying a few points in the plot along the way (we see Eboli present Philip II with the offending jewel case). At the burning of the heretics a stray child gets thrown on the pyre, adding to the horror of the spectacle.
More important is the mostly strong cast that Grange Park Opera has assembled. In this small theatre even moderate-sized voices set the ears ringing. The scene where Philip II and the Grand Inquisitor come face to face was an all-bass showdown, as Clive Bayley and Alastair Miles respectively vied to see who could roar with more authority. Stefano Secco made a searing Don Carlo, bringing some welcome Italian style. By his side Virginia Tola’s Elizabeth sounded shallow, but baritone David Stout rose to the occasion as a ringingly confident Rodrigo. Best of all was Ruxandra Donose, a compelling, fearless Eboli.
It is fitting that the short, taut, Italian Don Carlo should be conducted with a firm, Italian grip and rhythmic backbone by Gianluca Marcianò. The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra guarantees decent playing. The lusty young Grange Park Chorus gamely stands in for a cast of thousands. Grange Park Opera is off to a new home 40 miles up the road at West Horsley Place near Guildford next year. There is no sign the company will be leaving its ambition back in Hampshire.
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