Verdi’s “Don Carlo” was originally written for the Paris Opera, as a grand opera in five acts, with all the spectacle audiences expected from the form. One can’t fault companies today for economizing, but must new productions be as relentlessly and monotonously ugly as the one that opened at the Washington National Opera last night? Grand opera wasn’t just a musical or dramatic endeavor, it was a fundamentally visual art form. Producers need not conform to the specific scenic requirements in the libretto, but neither should they ignore the basic visual parameters, the sequence of light and dark, public and private, internal and external spaces.
Fortunately, this run of the opera has a strong cast, and it has Philippe Auguin at the helm of the orchestra. There is more psychological nuance in his rendering of the score than there is any of the mostly clumsy staging by Tim Albery. It is terribly sad that Auguin has been forced out of the company.