When Philipp Himmelmann’s production premiered of Don Carlo debuted in 2004, it caused an uproar for its violent climaxes. Years later, the more radical touches still inspire scattered boos. The Veil Song (“Nel giardin del bello”) is choreographed as a kinky sadomasochistic number, with Eboli keeping a terrified page at gunpoint and forcing him to strip. The auto-da-fé could well be described as Vlad the Impaler meets Abu Ghraib. It features naked, beaten victims of the inquisition who are bound with duct tape, doused in gasoline and hoisted up via ropes by their feet, while executioners hold up lit lighters. All the while, the royal family looks on from their dinner table with a mixture of amusement and indifference.
16th Century Spain seems to be reimagined as some ruthless fascist country, with most of the court packing semi-automatics with silencers. This modern-dress staging is coolly elegant, grim and matches Verdi’s opera in severity and sense of menace, which is here presented in the abridged 3-Act Version. The main set element is a large wooden table, at which the royal family eats, Elisabeth irons and Philipp and Princess Eboli get it on. The stage is mostly bare, aside from chairs. Exits and entrances are facilitated by sliding partitions that curtains that open and close gracefully.