The subject-matter of Verdi's Don Carlos could not be more uncomfortable, nor, in many ways, more contemporary.
Derived from Schiller's hard-hitting drama, it tells of the unremitting power of the Catholic Church, its manipulation of politics and its condemnation of humane intervention. It also tells of oppression by selfdeluding rulers believing themselves to be peace-keeping liberators.
Welsh National Opera's new production of the immense original Paris version of this magnificent work spares no gory detail in conveying the disgusting things carried out by the Church, including a gruesome blinding and the burning of heretics chained to a stake on top of a handcart. And in updating the action from the time of the Spanish Inquisition to around the 1950s, it reminds us of the opera's continuing topicality.
Johan Engels ' brilliantly pared-down sets and Nigel Levings' lighting reinforce the message: forests of crosses and gloomy atmospheres denote the old order, and bright colourings (including a lovely scene with parasols and blue skies), crucifix-less, evoke freedom from any kind of authoritarianism.
John Caird directs his actors across this resourceful stage with wit, sympathy and perception. Every chorus member, singing in such clearly enunciated French, brings life and character to the proceedings, and relishes Verdi's immensely varied writing.
Carlo Rizzi paces the music seamlessly (complementing the smooth scene-changes) and draws wonderful colours from a WNO Orchestra at the peak of its impressive form.
There is a tremendous team of soloists, with Guang Yang's Eboli outstanding for her sheer personality and passion, Scott Hendricks' Posa a marvel of manly integrity, and Daniel Sumegi a Grand Inquisitor of chilling presence, sweeping any dissension aside with the stick of a blind man who sees all through his spies.