Don Carlos, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

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The Independent Culture

The performance, beautifully conducted by Carlo Rizzi, was greeted with rapture. But to my mind it still has some way to go before it meets the company's highest recent standards.

Caird's staging, which opens in a Fontainebleau forest peopled by a familiar rent-a-crowd of hobbling refugess in street dress, later tracks through a variety of possible times and locales without ever quite fixing on one set of images, till the end, when Carlos is very nastily (and uncanonically) put to death by a red-cowled Capuchin monk.

Such bloodthirsty moments apart, the production is discreet and somewhat inert, reasonably paced but distinctly short on that overpowering theatricality which, at its best, makes Don Carlos the high point of historical grand opera. Carl Friedrich Oberle's costumes are historically incoherent (Philip II is a Pinochet figure in police un1iform, Posa a freedom-fighter in a Garibaldi shirt, but ranting on about Flanders). Johan Engels provides a plain, tourable set hung with crucifixes.

Rizzi's performance is stylish and immaculate, but not yet blessed with the strongest cast overall. Nuccia Focile sails through every difficulty as a marvellously touching and dignified Elisabeth, and Scott Hendricks is a memorable Posa, not ultra-mellifluous, but with a fine, controlled presence - superb, especially, is his great second-act scene with Philip.

Andrea Silvestrelli, though, is a disappointing king, too easily crushed by Daniel Sumegi's Grand Inquisitor; crushed, too, I felt, by the French. Guang Yang struggles with the demonic force of Princess Eboli.

Paul Charles Clarke is a polished but lightweight Carlos, at home with the French, in truth sounding more like a Hoffmann or a Faust, and not much helped by clothes that define him as nothing much at all - at any rate more Man, as Sarastro might have said, than Prince.

On tour, 11 October to 10 December